Why are US House web pages down?

The official website for the House of Representatives has been undergoing "maintenance" for weeks.  As of 1/24, the contact web pages for congressional representatives are still not available, with the message displayed: "The requested page could not be found."  But the Senate web pages are operating as normal.

The maintenance excuse doesn't pass the smell test.  Other organizations perform website maintenance in a matter of hours rather than weeks, and they usually do it overnight to minimize disruptions.  It may be that the members of the House of Representatives are afraid that there will be a torrent of angry messages if the contact web pages go back online, and they are probably right.  But that is not an acceptable reason to cut off the best way for constituents to express their opinions on issues to their representatives.

The point of the contact pages is to screen messages.  If the contact pages were up, a form would appear asking for name, address, etc. and with a box for a short message.  It is the equivalent of sending an email, except there can be no attachments.  The two ways that emails spread malware are through attachments and links, and the congressional staffers are not going to click on hyperlinks.  For example, go to Senate.gov and choose one of the senators for your state to see how the contact web pages should work.

Since the House contact web pages were down, I assumed that the email accounts were down, too.  So I went to my representative's official Facebook account and posted a message politely informing him that his email was down.  An automatic message popped up saying he would not respond to messages, but soon a staffer replied that the email account was functioning normally.  With that assurance, I sent an email message directly to the congressman's official email account, and in a matter of minutes, my email displayed a notice that it was undeliverable.

Then I composed a letter and faxed it to my representative's office, and soon I received an email from a staffer.  I explained that I was writing an editorial and included some questions, and in a couple of hours, the representative's official spokesperson replied to the questions in an email.

The point is that the House of Representatives is making it more difficult for constituents to contact their elected representatives.  You can still call their offices for constituent services at their official phone numbers, which can be found online.  And you can send a letter through the Post Office, but the screening process means they wouldn't even receive the letter for two weeks.  And most representatives have official Twitter and Facebook accounts as well, so you can tweet and message them.  With these other channels of communication open, it makes no sense not to activate their contact web pages.

This move seems to be an attempt to isolate representatives from criticism.  Whenever they decide to reactivate the contact web pages, there will probably be a tsunami of angry messages because people on both ends of the political spectrum are upset with Congress.  But making it more difficult for constituents to express their opinions will only make the situation worse in the long run.

Making it harder to speak out is never acceptable.  The remedy for speech with which you disagree is more speech, not less.  So regardless of your political orientation, you should make an extra effort today to tell them your opinion on the issues of the day.  Call the representatives' offices; send faxes; mail letters; tweet at them; message them on Facebook.  Let your representative know that communication is the key to unity, cooperation, and moving forward.

Image: PD-USGov.

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