tv Hearing on Congressional Mailing Standards CSPAN November 1, 2019 12:57am-2:02am EDT
the house committee held a hearing on congressional rules and heard from experts on how social media and technology will impact the way members of congress to debate could communicate with constituents. this is one hour. >> [inaudible conversations] come to order without objection the chair is authorized to declare a recess at any time and the committee is entitled congress bringing congressional mail standards and 21st century and they recogniz i recognize me
minutes for an opening statement to the happy halloween, everybody. i'm dressed as america's most maligned superhero, congressman, able to fly across the country in six hours on alaska airlines. [laughter] we were thinking about titling this hearing frankenstein how the house mailing standards have haunted members for decades, but i suppose we should go to the official un- spooky title for the record. likeue most of the issues that fall into the committee's mandate and work of the house he commission on the congressional mailing standards it is very inside baseball. to most people, frank is a name or a hot dog but the reality is for members of congress the congressional frank is actually fundamental to how we communicate with our constituency and every time we respond to the requests were sent newsletters or notices
about upcoming townhomes we used to frank and it's no surprise with the rise of social media, congress has seen an overall decline. ten years ago it spent an averae of $58,000 on frank male and today's members spend an average of 26,000. obviously there's a lot of variation by district and by member. it doesn't get around the factt social media has had a tremendous impact on how congress communicates with its constituents. ten years ago they didn't even havet a digital media staff and today almost every committee has won including hours and given these changes in the way congress and the american people communicate, today's hearing is important. if history is any indicator, the platforms will continue to rapidly evolve, and congress needs n to adapt so that members can communicate as effectively as possible with the people they represent, and i know representative susan davis put a lot of thought into these issues and have ideas about how to modernize it carried members need to understand the differences between the platforms so that they can make
smart choices about how to best communicate. it comes with a geographical constraints in some social media platforms, advertising the frank male doesn't. so the bottom line is communicating is a lot easier today but also a lot more complicated. i look forward to what the witnesses have to say about these issues and it's important to understand the history as well as the modern trends and how the members communicate with their constituents. the committee is focused on making congress work better so we can better serve the american people, and i thinkpl this hearg is in support of this mission. ..
>> and most don't even know about or understand to be behind the speed of communications we all want to effectively communicate and get back to our constituents we have heard from many of our colleagues who have ideas including the process for goes on this topic to step up to voice their opinion in the way we do things and i'm very grateful for that because they experience the rules and regular - - an experience and are quick to highlight improve those suggestions perk i look
forward from hearingng today on this halloween day what a better way to start itth off. spirit today we welcome testimony that we call the davis panel. serving as chair house commission on congressional mailingds standards to share your knowledge of the franking process each will have five minutes of testimony then we go on to the next panel representative davis you are recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much chairman and vice chairman you do understand bricco i do appreciate you pointing that out and members of the select committee it is a pleasure to join you on this historic day ofte what has to be the first franking stein hearing. [laughter]
i want to acknowledge the administration all play a key role of the communications the franking rules have spooked members and staff and constituents over the years but the good news we can make the whole franking process less scary and more effective. contrary to what many believe it was not created to frighten people but rather with a good intention to preventing members of taxpayer funds for personal political or commercial use however after nearly two decades we have seen the rules have the unintended sidelo effect to slow things down when they conduct
official business.y it has two main components which go hand-in-hand greater transparency and a simpler set of rules that ensures greater member accountability we can aachieve transparency easily by making the frank advisory opinions available online moving as it does for financial disclosure or travel reports and tribal filings and statements of disbursements. the whole idea is to have communications be available to constituents and the public which really does discourage the advantage of the franking
privilege. combined with transparency and with those new list of rules we are developing and the staff is pulling those together. as we work on that package the modernization committee relating for a digital communication my written testimony goes into greater titail but i willig and with the digital communications under the jurisdiction. and then to review all communications that modernization committee should evaluate the appropriateness.
and then to transfer social media followers from campaign accounts from time to time and then to maintain appropriate separation and use technology that is also reported and done by hand perhaps we could fix it with a unique barcode. i will wrap up now because i know the votes are fast approaching it is a pleasure working with all of you and your staff as well we look forward to your next set of recommendations. spent thank you mister chairman and to the vice chair
and to the franking commission. it's an honor to speak from the side of the dais to talk about something that folks around washington don't take the time to delve into to communicating with our constituents i have to command my colleague miss davis to implement that make the frank easier but we're not done yet and i have to say those those that take these franking request with my staffers they do a great job to make sure we work with the members to implement what we put in place. we actually try to make the process easier.
we are in the 21st century but we are using paper. that isap the process faster and for both of us on the commission. finally there is an appetite umbel sides to roll up our sleeves as the chair said to come up with some solutions and i believe we are doing that. i am very happy leader mccarthy appointed our colleague, a freshman and former staffer like many of us who have had to use the frank and is doing a great job to get involved to find out how we cand expand what we did with our teams last year. we had recent bipartisan negotiations and there is to
focus oncu moot make improvements on. and then to get these told around faster and then with the 21st century. let me outline a few reasons and then are very bureaucratic literally measuring the size of pictures many of the rules that we follow are set by precedent between staff for decades and then to codify those into rules and regulations so we don't have any changes that is something
i am forward to working with brian and susan. it's hard to follow rules when they are not written down and transparent. also when franking is needed we should have an automatic approval process. what are the consequences of members and staff don't follow the rules cracks does it make sense and add going to 500 people that cost $20 goes under same review under 50000 taxpayer dollars going in the mail quickset privacy is not the same expectation we should increase for privacy standards i also believe there is a check and balance with constituents and the american taxpayer that should replace
and as they contemplate recommendations members need to send communications to their constituents reasonable regulations are necessary to prevent abuse said the guidance need to be transparent and accessible and easy to understand. encouraging the members and i will yield back. >> i know it's a busy morning for use of thank you for making time. now we will invite the next panel of witnesses to take their seats. we wille start providing introductions in the interest of time. the first witness is senior fellow at government affairs at georgetown university prior to joining ta oh watching
franking and separation of powers and appropriations and tradition all administration agencies and detailed to the house appropriations with 2010 and 2011. joshua tucker professor politics at new york university is a coprincipal investigator at nyu i laboratory and codirector of the center for social and political behavior specializing in comparativeph politics with emphasis on lectures and voting with use of social media to facilitate. also a co- editor of the monkey cage that appears in the washington post the final witness over the past 15 years
has worked with congressional offices to streamline new technologies to develop software solutions for congressional offices full-time worked at the fireside end of the year my did your oily oral testimony is limited to five minutes and without objection you and statements are part of the record you are now recognized for five minutes chairman and vice chairman and members of the committee thank you for the opportunityty to testify today i'm senior fellow from georgetown university along with the congressional research service including member communication the legislative branch patriot committing a goal of s the eye provided historical and contextual review of frank and
privilege i discuss its origins and rationale the long-standing criticism in the framework congress uses for franking this is a building block of representative democracy the information of activity cannot flow from constituents to be less capable of congressional action likewise if constituentsue cannot give preferences to members then action is less likely to reflect public opinion from the 19th century predominately by members could also be sent to congress by constituents the legislative franking privilege dates continuously in the united states from the first congress from when it was temporarily abolished the modern system has a reform passed in 1973 coming from the late eighties including restrictions to
produce seeing frank mail material and expenditures exposure of individual members and pre-election bands the past 20 years the population of other electronic communications are a bill onn top of the existing franking regulations first is financially wasteful gives unfair advantage to incumbents and congressional elections in 2018 house member spent under 78 million pieces of unsolicited mail 26.million dollars and average cost of 35 cents per piece these are small by standards in 1988 and 2018 official congressional postage cost drop by over 80 percent of the contemporary costs of mailing is increasingly smaller number in 2485 percent of offices sent at least one mass mailing in
2018 only 61 percent furthermore over half thefu cost was accrued by offices averaging $216,000 of massve mailing expenses spending more than a quarter of their mra. as has been the case for decades freshen members spend much more on mass mailings and senior members and overall frank cost is higher in election years and nonelection years throughout history technological developments have altered communications and triggered regulatory changes the rise of computer-generated mailing list in the sixties have expanded to reach constituents thehe explosion of the communications of the 21st century began changing how members and constituents communicate. social media with interaction
has no cost to member or constituent these changes question the relevance of a traditional frank which is a smaller portion from recent years. over 78 million pieces of mass mailing 2018 and then 1 billion pieces of mass communication this cost on average less than one half of one cent per piece 70 times less expensive than the mass mailings as publicin policy there are five dimensions who was entitled? how much where it can be sent and when it can be sent in addition policy choices have transparency for those cost to be accounted for and paid for using a variety of regulatory frameworks in the past the contemporary system is quite different from those structures that preceded it in
with the rapidly changing communication environment of the 21st century thank you for having me today i look forward to your questionsns. >> doctor tucker you are recognized. >> members of the select committee thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. i am joshua tucker professor tpolitics that new york university in my testimony today i like to highlight the following four points first despite recent controversies of platforms there appears to be an noticeable drop of social media usage among adults that means platform for reaching us populations second there is a great deal of variation how social media tools can communicate with the public to set up the platforms themselves as well as the preferences to different
members of m congress third there are crucial distinctions u.s. postal service and social media platforms in particular members have much less control over how messages are delivered into who and in retrospect how well these are working ongoing efforts available for outside research and analysis should be an important concern for members of congress and access is necessary for the functioning iod impact of congressional communication efforts the third and fourth points i will address my remaining a marks beginning observations of the klatt platform business model first social media platform sell advertisements of messages from congress viewed by the public appear alongside of those that have no control this is a franking policy that
allows advertisements to be allowed to be sent in the mail by congress also media is not geographically constrained although different by platform is practically impossible to make sure those messaged on social media is only seen by one constituent one is that congressional communications are no longer written with one constituent in mind so all members will have incentives to think about national as opposed to a liberal audience it will be impossible to ensure quality through social media it will always be the case members of larger numbers of followers have greater reach than those with fewer followers. third most social media platforms have proprietary algorithm which is the secret sauce those that display content in any manner other than a chronological o approach
no one outside the company knows how they determine what people actually see s this means members of congress don't know how to control how or if their content is seen if they are at the mercy of any algorithm changes in the future. wild individual users can have that exposure it is often severely constrain making it difficult for congress to monitor the communication strategy it is against this backdrop the importance of dataim access disturbingly large portion of the data necessary are locked inside social media companies and these are reluctant to share that data for outside analysisly one creason is the cost among those disclosures that are so high
another is the prophecy movement that is necessary and salutary given the new digital environment but unfortunately outside research is collateral damage in the battle between government regulators and privacy advocates. as we think through these issues the prohibition for data does not mean it doesn't have assets but only those of the platform will mind the data learning the answers to the most pressing questions. therefore we need to move beyond the paradigm shared the platform respect the privacy of their users which we all agree in the abstract but what fully embraces the trade-off for legitimate privacy concerns and those to outside researchers on the other hand
trying to study the impact of democracy were congressional offices trying to reach constituents c in this debate any sort of attempt to monitor the existence and impact of congressional meet communication will fall i look y forward to your questions. >> thank you for your testimony you are now recognized. >> thank you chairman and for the opportunity to speak today at the ceo of firesidengide a leading provider of crm technology in congress to allow over 150 members to manage all incoming letters from constituents with thoughtful responses as ceo i've had a front row seat to understand how they operate manage their mail and how to communicate with constituents we've had countless conversation with
correspondents within the bureau with the understanding of the challenges to franking no doubt we have seen an explosion of communication over the last ten and 15 years to take these categorized more efficiently but the rules that govern outbound communication has not fundamentally changed over the last two decades i recommend a three overarching rules with that franking approval process. imagine you're watching the state of the union address you want to highlight the policies outlined in the speech your staff drafts up an e-mail sent it to the franking commission for approval they may have to wait a week foret frankingg that approval process takes far too long congress should not have an approval process that makes
something no longer newsworthy by the time they send it out this that takes less than 24 hours for content to be sent out by e-mail i don't have all the solutions but i'm confident changes to the approval process to facilitateme congress can meet the challenge my second recommendation is allow offices to send multiple follow-up responses without franking approval to 500 people in the congressional district contact member of congress to cosponsor legislation they can respond without needing franking approval however after they are sent if the member then decides to cosponsor that piece of legislation staff will have50 to get approval from franking to get an update letting them know they cosponsor the bill and if it passes the house then they again have to get approval
from the franking commission to send out an e-mail letting them know the legislation has passed regardless of how many people contact the congressional office on policy issues or legislation they should have the ability to send follow-up e-mails without needing franking approval. finally third to study how rules should be updated in light of emerging technologies within the next three years members of congress will have access to two new technology innovations that will allow them to communicate with constituents we are communicating with artificial intelligence from constituents and also lookingto at technology members available to automate the process of writing seresponses this letter writing technology can follow up those seanking rules so then we can
ensure the content is in the boundaries of the franking guidelines and that we don't need these letters to get prior franking g approval. the rules that were required decades ago need to be updated to account for the way congress operates now but congress should also create policies that not only apply to dave at work for emerging technologies in the future. thank you again for the opportunity to testify to modernize congressional mailing standards. >> thank you for your testimony recognize myself in five minutes. i am curious what we can learn how the senate does this with regard to social media my understanding is we have multiple versions of ourselves official and unofficial my
understanding is they do things differently in the d senate also they have a hard cap on the amount members can spend on franking is that good or bad crack. >> i can speak to the hard cap on the senate it is postal mass mail it is $50000 in postage per year and then it dramatically creek decreased its cost in 1994 very few senators send mass mailings in 201811 senator sent one or more mass mailings it may reduce cost and the house quite significantly without affecting too many members eight and are half million dollars could be saved over last year reducing cost by 30 percent and three quarters of the members were not even be affected.
>> i cannot say i am familiar with the senate's rules but i can state sending students into interview members on the house and set aside the last the people in the office responsible for drafting this to oversee the process and what is continually amazing me is the variation and the ways there are so many different approachesfe i have not seen the best practices of merging around this in one of the questions that comes up is ounding the different accounts of congress the campaign account or a personal account so this c causes difficulties on the backend how are they communicating with constituents you have to track
down all these different accounts andnd it causes issues if you have a lot of followers on one social mediaur account trying to get to the other there are different monitoring system set up it seems like a fairly inefficient way from the members perspective and those trying to understandnd how they are using these communication tools. >> are there things being done are technologies used or strategies used inmu the private sector quick. >> thank you for the question. probably like everybody else i am signed up for the axios news alerts with the topics you are interested in and get e-mails i subscribe to political and technology and
don't care about healthcare or china but those practice these can be utilized by members of congress as well. and with veterans affairs. and to keep them or engage in their practice. >> in fact i did a quick audit of all sign-up forms only one member asks for those but yes you are allowed to ask constituents what items they are interested in. the challenges when you tailor content it is a lot more content and that's where the franking process. >> you spoke there should be a
change which franking rules have value or should be capped or updated quick. >> speaking as a constituent but to allow the members to endorse or have highly political speech like the etackout but those are all valuable things. >>. >> when i first came to congress in 2013 that we could not migrate our campaign account and those people that were following us to educate them is very difficult to go
another account there is a lot of different factors of how many people they are following. it's very easy and how to hserve up this information the way things are ordered on the news feed. so if there is a process in place. >> the larger issue of people who are following you if you want to have a situation social media would never be limited to constituents. you may have others that choose to follow you but that
hallmark ofan social media is to re- share the information and they can share it as well. so then that is a greater following on the campaign account because you are trying to raise money in the district and then develop a separate list of those who are in your district and with that cost on the constituents as well. >> thank you very much. >> with the task force we continue to explore emerging technologies who would you have on the task for. >> there is quite a variety of expertise.
how word you decide the thoughts on the task a force quick. >> from theon previous testimony thein communications director using those technologies putting a cap on the workflow that's a great group of people to start with. l> i yelled back. >> cell a question with social media advertising i don't do the franking office so just talking about it sounds like with the social media what you say that over certain quantities are who you target which is what i do with my business on a daily basis you
can tell your spouse happy birthday you can get that specific i can pick suburban women who belong to unions i can never do that through mail but that is a lot of value to use that that nobody will look at that but can you suggest that issue cracks that's my bigger concern to use that in official capacity that is campaign like. >> it all varies across platform so speaking at a general levelle but it's important to understand that members have access tomu social media for communication purposes there are two distinct ways to do this you can have a organic reach reit posting things and people that find it will follow and share then targeted advertising that involves paying for ads but
you are talking about the hyper ability excessive micro- targeting where companies especially google and facebook that give this incredible precision these are two very different things and this is the advice that i give that anything that you do in terms of thinking about social media usage be clearer to specify if it is intended to apply to advertising which we have regulations around advertising or organic reach. this is what i said about not being equal. there's no you can ensure that is equal and with that
different types of advertising depending on what you're doing with advertising. that this is very different types of approaches. and if it's organic you cannot target the same way asds ads. >> so getting to the specifics of that advertising part but you could be very specific to the point of what we do from campaigns and nobody will look at it so that's the concern. >> that goes back to the latter part of the testimony. this is the only way you'll have the political impact of social media. not for the publication review with her own company have access to theit data those are efforts underway and with the
congressional communication and the advertising content is important you do what you can to make an out - - available for analysis and also we can help you with that factual and thorough information in this regard. >>. >> this goes to the obsolete rules you're not allowed to collect data with a republican or democrat it is based on the communication or the surveys that they send you can make a one question survey today to
support impeachment so that original intent franking i believe is to not allow offices to overuse that information although the streams public information now. >> that current framework is the idea through official content is official representation content. i wouldn't shortchange how much you can target on a platform like every member does you can get somebody who is this age or gender and could do a 499 toas them.
>> thank you mister chair for your comments what you are discussing with us is going into the weeds my first question is we provide better experiences for member the houses of the easiest environment to operate in. so tell us about roadblocks or difficulties you are vendors run into some features in your testimony. >> one of the unique aspects of congress is the fact there are state actors of security
trying to compromise our process so for a while they have certainly had very restrictive guidelines where it could be hosted and constituent data and recently was restrictive to keep that inside the house network which restricts vendors from using things like cloud services to do analysis on data and from what i understand they've been doing a lot of work on that enabling vendors to access those types of resources. i'm confident within the next year or two we have the patterns we need that the research on machine learning we partnered with a consulting group and took all the constituent mail from four offices and processed all that using modern learning they
said it would take about ten years to process thatf information so we had to do that to amazon with there is specialized hardware to do that so now they make policies to allow us to do that eventually. >> had you think those new technologies can move communications into the 21st century we are here talking about franking that would get hold of that new technology to be as effective as it could be? >> and i appreciate the staff to talk about the challenges and that it is ambiguity of how the rules apply a lot of people talk about you cannot
send the same message to more than 500 people perk of you wanted to deploy a modern bot to your website i can send you paper mail that more efficiently was a chat bought on your home page that says what can i help you with crack sick i'm interested in casework. great. is that solicited or unsolicited? if you send more than 500 of those same responses to those that are on the chat by is that under the franking guidelines? that's why a task force that they have questions about and are not sure and as the private sector all those are not big monolithic e-mails they are small reminders and r
notifications and looking at interest in making small predictions are you interested in by o it on - - buying this product cracks you interested in seeing these other movies you can do this for constituents as somebody right then with a military base and that they could be interested in other topics. when people draft content so computers are analyzing when to send messages and sending the message. that is incompatible.
>> and to upsell i remember upsell do you want fries with that? it works. i healed back. >> i will follow up on this. talk about technologies to haveo those expenses but that personalization of those it doesn't get to a place of automatic responses versus having a true conversation with constituents? i worry about how that could be lost. >> what technology can help
you with is to filter out. as a member of congress my understanding is looking at the information they would like to do two things to have a global picture of how their constituency feels the percentage do not support it. also looking for personal stories for how people areor affected. when members make speeches they usually don't show a graph prickle they say sally was affected by this policy in this way. so we are using machine learning to processo that view.
and then to identify those stories and those that come to congress are a template yes i support this measure and you get a o template measure. and to put that in the overall sentimentality that i am having trouble with getting casework. i'm not getting the support that i need is handed off to caseworkers you don't want to be lost in the m mix. >> so you talk about and how to parse out information to the right person more quickly. >> i recently visited one office and looking at their
practices they turned off every single automation and efficiency measure within the system. ihe said why did you do this? when everybody's contact form you have an option that says ,yes i would like a response or no i just want to let you know my opinion. they don't expect a response then you close it out. but a veteran rotated with suicidal notes but said i don't need a response and i was lost in the process. aspect everyque message has a lot of weight but that your staff cannot eyeball every single message that's why we are looking at machine learning in the sea of
noise you see that in social media and then with interesting responses and then one of them is somebody's doing casework or having trouble in the district it's impossible to look at every single comment but that's a good case for computers. >> one word of caution is that we know the o users are biased sample of your constituents if they have time to write hand letters or get on the internet versus those who sign up for social media platforms for them to keep that in mind the
only way you got communication was from letters a good sense of which they write letters and that will allow you to interpret that to the lensyo with that sentiment of handwritten or typewritten letters now they receive communication from mail and phone and e-mail and automated e-mails and then you have it one of the crs report said the average member of congress has six social media accounts at six different platforms and i have data about this but they use these platforms at differentif rates so now there are a lot of different biases. i think there is a danger to automate with a sense of false precision that 72 percent are
in favor of this issue but you don't know that 72 percent is represented so it is a word of caution. >> in aal district like mine with a lot of rural areas they cannot participate online as much and to participate day today on social media side. thank you very much high-yield back. >> oneng other thing i want to raise one of the challenges members face is based on how we currently do things you find yourself having to choose to do more proactive communications with constituents or paying your staff.
and my first term as a freshman member when everyone was a new hire i had more capacity in my budget in the most rural parts to keep folks up to date but we were working on. as i try to retain these people that slice of office budget has shrunk stupendously as they deal with these issues potential solutions do we look at takingg that franking out of mra? or do you have other ideas. >> i have mixed feelings i am
a big believer we need to increase the resources available particularly for staff. it is vitally important for the legislative branch traditionally franking cost were not in the mri one - - mra starting in the fifties congress started to reimburse them with the appropriation bill. and the reason it was changed to reduce cost with a market value on franking now if you had to choose you might frank a lot less so consequently moving that itself out of the mra if you just did that i would suggest doing that with a cap of some sort but they
don't have a cost to that but there are other cost to franking and with the mra we believe in the idea the members should represent their constituents and that's great to have ed decentralized system but everybody has an office and we don't charge you rent to be here and then you give it back. things that don't cost such as the cost of crm software could be off boarding and if you think about it we don't have to have mra freeing up money for maybe half a staffer. >> when you look at social media those goals overlap
because the cost of using social media to communicate has a staff member who knows what they are doing to oversee this and craft strategy. i have given you a lot of caveats but that is to understand the consequences with a tremendous promise because of this organic content with very low budget maplications so those to help manage that. >> one example from ten years ago it was pretty specific for those who drafted those
letters it has migrated over time and now they have interns drafting replies which was not unthinkable ten years ago. so i agree the problem is resources being available and for us as a vendor we raised prices $35 a month over the last ten years even though the cost to hire and retaining programmers has gone through the roof. those are challenges because they are limited resources. >> with that thank you for your testimony today. you took a dry subject and made it interesting.
also thank you to the select committee staff their hard work to put together the hearings and allowing us to use your room and transcribing for what we are doing as he spent to cover us. without objection all members have five legislative days to submit additional written questions we ask witnesses to please respond as promptly as you are able without objection there we five legislative days for inclusion in the record. we are adjourned. [inaudible conversations] regioo