GSPM Professor studies loss of e-mail sent to Congressional offices

A dean in the Graduate School of Political Management completed a study that found that a large portion of e-mails sent to members of Congress never arrive at their intended destination.

Dennis Johnson, a professor and an associate dean in GSPM, examined the success of vendors who coordinate prepared responses that lobbying organizations send to members of Congress from private citizens.

The company that sponsored the study, Capitol Advantage, is one of these online vendors. Capitol Advantage works with non-profit and other organizations to prepare e-mails that citizens can send to their member of Congress.

The study examined 10 vendors and evidence suggested that a great deal of the e-mails sent to Congress eventually ended up in a sort of electronic trashcan, without the approval or knowledge of the constituents who sent them.

“Like citizens who expect their postal mail to be delivered and not dumped into the trash by the mail carrier, online citizens and organizations should demand the same level of reliability and accountability from vendors,” he said in the report.

The study’s research team tested which online vendors successfully delivered e-mails by recording if the vendors received an auto-response from the Congressional offices. These automatic e-mails notify the sender that a message has been received and that a reply will be written and sent soon.

A sample of four Senate personal offices and 33 House personal offices, all of which claim to send automatic response e-mails, were included in the study. Ten major advocacy communications vendors, such as Capitol Advantage, Democracy in Action and VoterVoice, were tested for reliability in delivering e-mails to members of Congress.

From late August to the beginning of September, the research team utilized the vendor Web sites’ e-mail forms to send electronic messages to the 37 offices, using actual constituent addresses to prevent the filtering out of their messages. The team allowed a week of time to pass by until the automatic response e-mails had to be received by all vendors.

Johnson’s final report showed six vendors delivered less than half of the e-mails. Two of these six had a zero percent return and another had a return of 16.2 percent. Some vendors had as high of a rate as 90 percent while others returned about 80 percent to 50 percent. The study also found that most of the vendors who did not deliver clients’ e-mails did not notify the citizens about their failure to do so.

The study found that some Congressional offices are using online tools to ensure they do not get barraged by spam e-mails. Some offices use filters which can delete some constituent mail that are mistaken as spam.

Jonson wrote at the conclusion of his study: “The reputation of this entire business is at stake when vendors cannot deliver promised goods and when they fail to own up to their own shortcomings.”

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