A new Congressional Management Foundation report entitled “Communicating with Congress How Citizen Advocacy is Changing Mail Operations on Capitol Hill“Â found that constituents are contacting their Congressmen far more frequently than they were 10 years ago:Â Senate offices reported a 548 percent increase in mail volume since 2002Â (including one office that experienced a 1,422 percent jump), and representatives in the House received 158 percent more mail. Â Despite receiving overwhelming amounts of constituent mail, 90 percent of congressional staff surveyed still say that constituent communications remains a “high priority.”
Offices that embrace technology find responding to constituent communication much easier than those that don’t, but the report found that in many cases, “‘old school’ habits on Capitol Hill are inhibiting the potential forÂ Congress and citizens to have a more robust, active and meaningful relationship using onlineÂ technologies.” Â In the past, many offices refrained from sending emails, resorting to phone calls and snail mail instead because they were afraid their messages would be altered. Â Even still, 86 percent of congressional offices are answering email messages with emails, a rise from 37 percent in 2005.
However, if you’re feeling like an office isn’t getting much done, or is taking forever to respond to your scheduling request, it’s because staff is also spending an increasing amount of time sifting through the influx of constituent mail. Â The survey found that on average, staff spend 58 percent of their time on constituent communications, and 46 percent say they have had to shift resources to manage the increased mail volume. Â Response time seems not to be dependent on the request: 42 percent of staff surveyed say it takes more than three weeks to draft and approve a response to an issue that previously has not be raised, and 41 percent say they need “more than a week to respond to a constituent email even if a prepared text response has been drafted and approved.” Â All of this with the same resources; Congress has not increased office staff sizes since 1979. Â In 2009, Congress debate a high number of high profile issues, and as a result, offices also experienced the greatest jump in constituent communications that year.
Senior managers in congressional largely believe that the biggest challenge they face as it pertains to responding to constituent mail is mail volume (35 percent), but 41 percent of “mail staffers” state “the review and approval process” is the mostly responsible for the delay.