tv Hearing on Congressional Mailing Standards CSPAN November 25, 2019 9:28am-10:36am EST
trail, a part of cspan's battleground states tour. >> the house modernization committee heard from experts on how social media and technology and members of congress communicate with their constituents. this is an hour. . >> all right. we will come to order without objection. the chair is authorized to address any time.
this is titled congress and the frank bringing congressional mail standard into the 21st century. i recognize myself to give an opening statement. happy halloween, everybody. i am dressed as america's most maligned superhero congressman, able to fly across the country in six hours on alaska airlines. we were thinking about titling this hearing franken stein how the house's ghoulish mailing standard have haunted members for decades, but i suppose we should go with the official unspooky title for the record. like most of the issues that fall into this committee's mandate, in the work of the house commission on congressional mailing standard, it's very inside baseball. to most people frank is a name or a hot dog or, but the reality is for members of congress, the congressional frank is actually fundamental to how we
communicate with our constituents and every time we respond to constituent requests or send news heat e letters or upcoming town halls, we use the frank. it's no surprise with media congress seen a decline in the use of the frank. consumers spent $58,000 on frank mail, today members spend an average of 26,000. there is obviously variation by district and member. still there is no getting around the fact social media has had a tremendous effect on how congress communicates with constituents. ten years ago congress didn't have a digital staff. today almost every committee has one including ours. given these changes in the way that congress and the american people communicate, today's hearing is actually really important. if history is any indicator, communications platforms will continue to rapidly evolve. i know that representative susan davis and the frank commission
have idea how to modernize the frank, members have to understand the difference across platforms to make expert choices of how best to communicate and it comes with geographic constraints social media doesn't. some come with advertising the frank pail doesn't. the bottom line is communicating is a lot more complicated. i'm looking forward to what people have to say and the history and modern trend and how members communicate with their constituents. this community is focused on making congress better serve the american people. i think this hearing is wholly in support of that mission. now i'd like to have our vice share opening remarks and any halloween jokes he has as well. >> thank you, mr. chairman. i think you stole them all there. all i have is the last name. that's all i can do on halloween. thanks for holding this hearing today. as you said, mr. chairman, there are more ways than ever to talk
about constituents back home. . with the click of a mouse we can detect e connect throughout our district to share problems and hear ideas and opinions from those we represent. communication with those we represent is one of the post-important part of our jobs as we are representatives for them. the current franking process as you describe is one most don't know about or understand feels light years behind the speed of communications and the opportunities we have today. we all want to communicate and get back to our constituents. as a result this year we have heard from many of our colleagues who have many idea for reforming congress, including this process of communication. so on this topic. many of the freshman members have stepped up to voice their opinions and question the way we do things. i am very grateful for that. because they have experienced the rooug rules and the regulations and procedures for the first time. they're quick to highlight ways to improve or suggestion they
may have to allow us to communicate differently and better and quicker. so i look forward to the hearing today. it will be great. a wonderful halloween day, what better way than to start it off here on the committee hearing. >> all right. today we welcome testimony of five witnesses. our first panel, which we're calling the davis panel. we have representative susan davis and representative rod fidavis who in addition to serving on this he served on the chair of mailing standard in the 115th congress. both are here to share their knowledge in the franking process. each will provide five minutes of testimony. so representative susan davis, are you now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you very much, thairm chairman and vice chairman graves. you do understand we get confused every now and then. i appreciate you pointing that out. of course members, it's a
pleasure to john you on what has to be house's first ever franken tine heari stein hearing. i want to thank the ranking member, rodney davis and the franking commissions new rank member ryan steele. all of who play a key role in massive communications. the house's rules, franken rules have certainly spooked members, staff and constituents over the years but the good news is we can make the process less scary and more effective. kraer to what many staff believe, the house franken man warm was not created to frighten people but rather with the good intention of preventing members from misusing taxpayer funds for personal, political or commercial use. however, after nearly two decade of working with those rules, we've seen the rules have the
unintended side effect of slowing things down and preventing members from writing the way they speak when they conduct official business. our commission took fresh look at the rules and came up with a new approach. it has two main components, which go hand-in-hand, greater transparency and a simpler set of rules. greater public transparency ensures greater member accountability. we can achieve this available online. the house's website can link to ours as it currently does for financial disclosure reports. for and travel reports, gift and travel filings. legal expense fund disclosures and statements of disbursements. i would just state again, you all notice, the whole idea is to have members franken communications be available to their constituents like other reports. i just noticed, which really
does i believe discourage undo advantage of the franken privilege. combined with transparency the rules will prevent the misuse of taxpayer funds. i look forward to sharing the new rules we are developing soon and staffs are pulling those togethers and have come up with quite a bit of consensus. as we work on our new package at franking, we have some requests of the modernization committee relating to digital communications. my written testimony goes into greater detail. i'll highlight a few main asks now. first, we suggest the modernization committee recommend consolidating and quote digital communication and putting it under our jurisdiction. right now, we are only charged with reviewing postal mail but in practice, we review all communications. and second, the modernization committee should evaluate the
appropriateness. again, i think this is for you all to look at. of allowing members the option to transfer their social media followers from campaign accounts to their official accounts from time to time or perhaps just one time and also consider allowing campaign websites to link to official sites. this would eliminate confusion from our constituents while maintaining appropriate separation. third, we need to update office reports which are still self reported and done by hand. perhaps we could fix this with a unique bar code? i'll wrap up now, i know votes and pumpkins are fast approaching. thank you again, it has been a pleasure working with you and your staff as well. we look forward to your next set of recommendations. >> thank you, chair davis, now, representative rodney davis, are you now recognized for five
minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you to the vice chair and also to the chair of the franken commission, my good friend miss davis. i will tell you it's an honor to speak from this side and i'll go back around to that side as soon as i'm done, but to be able to talk about something a lot of folks in and around washington don't want to take the time to delve into. it's very important for the job we do in communicating with our constituents. last congress i was the claire of the franken commission and i had to commend my colleague miss davis because we were able to work together to implement some new processes that had made the frank easier. but we're not done yet. and i do want to say the folks that work on house administration that take these franken requests. my staffers, tim and elizabeth do a great job in making sure they work with our member offices to implement many of the ar cane standard we put in
place. susan and i and our teams were able to make the process easier. no more paper. we're in the 21st century. this is the thing we should do. we digitized everything, which makes the process for turning that approval or disapproval around faster. it's something i know was a goal of both of us when we were on the commission. we've got to do more and there's finally, i believe an appetite on both sides to roll up our sleeves as chair davis said, get our teams together. come up with some solutions and i believe we're doing that i'm very happy our colleague, brian style, a freshman, a former staffer like many of us whose had to use the frank and he's dog great job of getting involved and finding out how we can even expand on what susan and i did with our teams last
year. we had recent bipartisan negotiations and there's as she said opportunities for substantial changing to the franken rules and we have three main buckets that we're no cushion on making improvements on the speed of approval. transparency and then also developing regulations to work. let me outline a few of the reasons they're in such needs? we're literally measuring the size of pictures and counting the number of times the letter i is used. staff press sent has not been updated if regulations. now, let me get this straight. many of the rules that we follow and approvals that our teams follow have been set by precedent between staff for decades. we as members are to codify those precedence into rules and
regulations so we don't have any changes on the committee and lead leadership that's something i'm looking forward to working with brian and susan on. it's hard to follow rules when they're fougnot written down an think we should re-visit when franking is needed. many times we need to have an automatic approved process. also, what are the consequences if members and staff deep follow those rules. for example. does it make sense a facebook ad of $20 is subject to the same review of 100 mailers to 50,000 people. furthermore, the expectation of privacy not the same as it was ten years ago, as a result, we support increased transparency standards for franking. i also believe with greater transparency comes a better check and balance with the
constituents and the american taxpayer should replace the rule of staff measuring pictures. finally as members contemplate, members need to send them to constituents. reasonable regulations are necessary and finally regulations and guidance need to be transparent, accessible and easy to understand. i encourage the members to think bold and also new ideas are always welcome and i will take this opportunity to yield 29 seconds being to you, mr. chair. >> thank you both. you both stuck the landing. thank you both for your testimony. chair woman davis, i know it's a busy woman for you. thank you for making time to come. we will now invite up our next panel of witnesses to taker that seats, props as they do i will start providing introductions just in the interests of time. our first witness is dr. mathew
glassman, a senior fellow at george town university prior to joining gai, he worked at the congressional research for fen years, it includes congressional operation, separation of powers, appropriation, judicial administration, agency design and congressional history, he was details tailed as his professional staff for the legislative branch subcommittee in fiscal year 2010 and 2011. the next witness is joshua tuckary professor of politics at new york university. he is a co-principal social media and participation laboratory and co-conductor tore political behavior he specializes with emphasis in public voting in facilitateing all forms of political association. and a co-editor of monkey cage, an award winning scientifics
progress. which appears in the washington post. the first spot a person who for the past 15 years worked to stream 39 crm operations and leverage new technologies, prior to focusing on software solutions full time, josh worked at several telecommunications and testing startups. in 2018, he became focused on a soft wire business he co-founded. witnesses are reminded, your oral testimony will be limited to five minutes, without objection, your written statements will be a part of the record. you will now be recognized. >> chairman kilmer, vice president graves and members of the select community. thank you for the opportunity to testify. i'm matt glassman at georgetown university. i'm also with the congressional research service. my portfolio includes member communication and the franken privilege. i'm a legislative branch patriot and committed to the goal of a modern and powerful legislature.
in my testimony, i provided historical overview of the franken privilege. i studied the origins and rational and congress used to regulate franking. member constituent communications is a building block of representative democracy. it's information cannot easily flow from members to constituents. citizens will be less capable about electoral action about members. likewise, if kwimpts cannot easily communicate to members, congress am action is less likely to reflect public opinion, franken mail could not be september by members but could be sent to congress by constituents. the legislative franken privilege has existed continuously since the first congress. except for a brief period when it was temporarily abolished. a reform passed in 1973.
it includes many of the familiar restrictions, abandon using private money. limits on overall franken expenditures. public disclosures of individual member costs and bans on mass mailings. in the last 20 years ago electronic communications have been built on top of the existing franken regulations. twoing long standing criticisms have been launched. first, it's financially waistful. second it gives unfair advantage to incumbents. in 2018, house members sent over 78 million pieces of unsolicited mass mail. an average cost of 35 cents per piece. these expenditures are actually quite small by historical standard. between 1998 and 2018, costs dropped by over 80%. the contemporary costs of mass mailings are being driven by a
small number of offices. in 'year, they sent at least one mass postal mailing n. 20 earnings only 61% did. furthermore, over half the costs of postal mass mailings averaged the $216,000 in mass mailings. as has been the case for decade freshmen members spent a lot more than senior members. an overall franken mail continue to be higher in election years than non-election years. throughout history, they have altered communications and have often triggered regulatory changes. for example, the rise of computer-generated mailing list and postal patron mail services in the '60s expanded to reach constituents and an explosion in unsolicited mail sent. the rise of electronics is once
again changing how members communicate. e-mail is the most popular way to reach members. social media accounts allow for real time action that have no cost. these changes call into question the relevant of the traditional mail system. which has become a smaller portion in recent years. while members spent over 78 million pieces of mass mail, they sent over 1.2 billion pieces of mass communication, they cost on average less than one half of one cent per piece, making them 70 times less expresencive. as a public policy, the franken privilege has five dimensions, who is entitled to be franked? what can be franked? how much it can be september, where it can be sent and when it can be sent. >> in addition, policy choices exist and how franken costs will be accounted and paid for. congress uses a variety of frame works to answer these in the
past. the contempt traer system is sa product of the late 20th century and increasingly out of sync with the rapidly changing constituent communications environment of the 21st century, thank you for having me here today. i look forward to your questions. >> thank you, dr. tucker you are recognized for five minutes for your testimony. >> chairman kilmer, vice chairman graves, thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today. my name is joshua tucker, i'm a co-director for social media and politics. in my testimony today, i'd like to highlight the following four points. first, despite recent controversy around various social media platforms, there appears to have been no aappreciable drop in social media usage among u.s. adults. therefore, social media remain viable platforms for reaching large portion of the u.s. population. second, there is a great deal of variation in how social media tools can be used to communicate with the public, both due to
ploompl affordances or setting up of the platforms, themself, as well as to the preferences of different members of congress. third, there are crucial distinctions between communicating with constituents through the u.s. postal service and social media fourth, ongoing efforts to make social media data available for outside research and analysis should therefore be an important concern for members of congress as access to social media data will be necessary to assess the functioning and impact of congressional communication efforts. it is to these third and fourth points i will address my remaining remarks. i begin with the consequences of the platform's business models. first, social media platforms generate revenue by selling advertisements, which means messages from members of congress viewed by the public may appear alongside ads over which members have no control.
consider this equivalent to a franking policy that allows companies to insert advertisements into mail sent by congress. second, as the chair mentioned, posts on social media are not geographically constrained. it is practically impossible to ensure that messages posted on social media platforms will only be seen by one's constituents. this has two important implications. one is that congressional communications will no longer be written only with one's constituents in mind. this means that all members will have more of an incentive to think about national as opposed to local audiences. the other is that it will be impossible to ensure equality in terms of exposure to messages when the medium is social media. it's always going to be the case that members with larger numbers of followers will enjoy greater reach for their messages than those with fewer followers. third, most social media platforms deliver content through proprietary algorithms. this is the secret sauce of social media. this means that for platforms that display content in any manner other than a simple
chronological approach, no one outside of the company knows how the company determines what viewers will actually see. this in turn means that members of congress are unable to control how or even if their content is seen and that they will be at the mercy of any algorithmic changes the platforms decide to make in the future. while individual users can receive information about exposures to their posts, the ability of outside observers to assess these patterns at scale is often severely constrained, thus making it difficult for congress to retrospectively monitor the impact of its members' communication strategies. it is against this backdrop that i turn to the importance of data access for assessing the impact of social media on politics. a disturbingly large portion of the data necessary to investigate the internet's effect on politics and democracy are locked inside social media companies. and these firms are generally reluctant to share that data for outside analysis. one reason for this reluctance is the costs, legal, financial, and reputational, of
unauthorized disclosure that are so high. another reason is an emerging digital privacy movement, which is both necessary and salutary given the real dangers to privacy in the new digital environment, but unfortunately, outside research has become collateral damage in this battle between government regulators, privacy advocates, and the platforms. as we think through this set of issues, it's important to realize that a prohibition on making social media data available for outside analysis does not mean that these data will be not mined for insights. rather, it means that only employees of the platforms will be mining the data and learning the answer to the most pressing questions as to social media's impact on democracy and other social phenomenon. we therefore need to move beyond the normatively pleasing paradigm of should the platforms respect the privacy of their users, with which of course we all agree in the abstract to one that fully embraces the trade-offs inherent between legitimate privacy concerns on the one hand and the social good that can come from making data accessible to outside
researchers on the other hand. whether they are academics trying to study the impact of social media on democracy or congressional offices trying to reach their constituents. it is into this debate that any sort of attempt to monitor the existence and impact of congressional communication through social media will undoubtedly fall. thank you for your time, and i look forward to your questions. >> thank you for your testimony. and you're now recognized for five minutes. >> thank you, chairman and members of the committee for the opportunity to speak today. my name is josh billigmeier. i'm the ceo of fire side, one of the leading providers of crm technologies in congress. our company provides the software that allows over 150 members to manage all of the incoming letters and emails from constituents and quickly turn around thoughtful, relevant responses. as ceo of this company, i've had a front row seat to understand how congressional offices operate, how they manage their mail, and how they decide when and how to communicate with their constituents. i've had countless conversations
with members, chiefs of staff, legislative directors, and correspondents and have gained a thorough understanding of the practical challenges related to franking. there's no doubt that we've seen an explosion of communications sent to members of congress over the last 10 to 15 years. our software has allowed congressional offices to take these messages in, categorize, understand, and more efficiently respond to constituents, but the rules that govern outbound communication with constituents have not fundamentally changed over the last few decades. based on my experience, i recommend three overarching rule changes for franking. recommendation number one, streamline the franking approval process. mr. chairman, imagine that you have just finished watching the state of the union address and want to send an email to your constituents highlighting some of the policies outlined in the speech. your staff drafts up an email and send it to the franking commission for approval. the staff may have to wait for days, if not weeks for approval. the franking approval process often takes far too long.
congress should not have an approval process that makes something no longer newsworthy by the time they're able to send it out. my strong recommendation is that congress find an approval process that takes less than 24 hours for content to be sent out by email. i don't have all the solutions, but i'm confident that with some changes to the approval process and the technology used to facilitate the approval process, congress can meet this challenge. my second recommendation is allow offices to send multiple follow-up responses to a constituent without franking approval. if 500 people in a congressional district contact their member of congress urging them to co-sponsor legislation, the office can respond to those 500 people without needing franking approval. however, after those responses are sent, if the member then decides to co-sponsor that piece of legislation, their staff will have to get approval from franking to send an update to those 500 people, letting them know they co-sponsored the bill. and if that piece of legislation passes the house of representatives, the office will
again have to get approval from the franking commission to send out an email letting those 500 people know that the legislation has passed. it's my strong recommendation that regardless of how many people contact a congressional office on a policy issue or a piece of legislation, the office should have the ability to send multiple follow-up emails to the interested constituents without needing franking approval. finally, my third recommendation is create a task force to study how franking rules should be updated in light of emerging technologies. i predict within the next three years, members of congress will have access to two new technology innovations that will dramatically improve their ability to communicate with constituents. my company has been experimenting with artificial intelligence and machine learning to help offices manage the onslaught of inbound communications from constituents. and we are also introducing technology that will be available to members of congress next year to allow staff to automate the process of writing responses to constituents. this automatic letter writing technology can be programmed to follow all the franking rules.
so when a member uses these automatic letter writing tools, we can ensure the content of the letter is kept within the boundaries of the franking guidelines and therefore we won't need any of these letters to get prior franking approval. the point is this. the franking rules that were created decades ago need to be updated to account for the way congress operates now. but congress should also be creating policies that not only apply today but will work for emerging technologies in the future. thank you again for the opportunity to testify in my ideas to change congressional mailing standards. >> thank you for your testimony, each of you. we'll now go to members of the committee to ask questions. i'll start and recognize myself for five minutes to ask questions. i'm not sure who to direct this to. i'm curious what we can learn from how the senate does this, both with regard to social media. my understanding, i may be wrong about this, but i know on the house side, we have multiple versions of ourself. we have official derek and
unofficial derek. my understanding is they may do things differently in the senate. i wanted to get your reaction to that. i also know they have a hard cap on the amount members can spend on franking. curious if you have a reaction to whether that's a good thing, bad thing. >> i can certainly speak to the hard cap. the hard cap in the senate is on the amount of postal mass mail that members can send. it's $50,000 in postage per year. it's probably the driving reason that the senate dramatically decreased its franking postal costs since it was instituted in 1994. very few senators send mass postal mailings. i think in 2018, 11 senators sent one or more mass mailings. a similar cap might reduce costs in the house quite significantly without affecting too many members. you can imagine a cap of say, $100,000 on total costs of mass mailing. that would save $8.5 million off of last year, reducing costs by 30% and three-quarters of
members wouldn't even be affected by it. >> i can't say i'm familiar with the senate's rules on what they do regarding social media accounts, so i can't answer the question directly. what i can state is i've been sending students in to interview members of congress, both on the house side and senate side for the last six years to ask the people in their office who are responsible for drafting the social media posts and responsible for overseeing the process, and what has continually amazed me is the variation we see across offices and the ways in which there are so many different approaches to get across different offices. so it surprised me. i haven't sort of seen best practices emerging where people are converging around one set of practices. one of the big questions that always comes up is the question of finding the different accounts of the members of congress. there's the official account. there can be the campaign account. there can also be the personal account. so this actually also causes difficulties on the back end if
you're trying to monitor how members of congress are communicating with constituents. you have to try to track down all these different accounts. it also causes, as was mentioned by representative davis, this causes a problem if you have a lot of followers who are on one of your social media accounts, trying to figure out how to get them to the other social media account. and given the fact there are different monitoring systems set up for official counts versus nonofficial accounts, it seems like a fairly inefficient way from the members' perspective and those of us trying to understand how members are using these communication tools. >> i wanted to get a sense from you whether there are things being done, technology being used, communication strategies being used in the private sector that you think congress ought to take a crack at. >> thank you for the question, mr. chairman. i think probably like everyone else, i'm signed up for axios news alerts. when you go to axios, you can select the topics you're interested in and get emails based on that. i subscribe to political and technology.
i don't care quite as much about health care or china. those kind of practices can be utilized by members of congress as well. most constituents aren't interested in getting information on all of the topics that you address. allowing them to choose maybe veterans affairs or other topics they're interested in and tailoring the content to that to keep them more engaged is a good practice. >> do you know, is that allowed right now under our rules? >> yes. in fact i did a quick audit of all the members' email sign-up forms. only one member asks for those interests, but yes, you're allowed to ask constituents which items they're interested in. the challenge is that, you know, when you tailor content for constituents, you wind up sending out a lot more content that's different and that's where the franking process becomes kind of a bottleneck for that. >> you spoke in your testimony to things that you thought ought to be changed.
which franking rules, in your view, continue to have some value, should be kept, should be updated? >> yeah, i think speaking as a constituent, i would say i like all the common sense ones about not allowing members to endorse things or have a highly political speech. those seem like common sense things. the blackouts. i don't know what the pros and cons necessarily are of those. but i think those are all valuable things to keep in there. >> terrific. okay. with that, let me invite ms. brooks. you have five minutes. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you to those on the panel for coming today. when i first came to congress in 2013, it did baffle me that we could not migrate our campaign. it was the first time i had run for office, first time it created a campaign account. those people that were following us that we had to educate them
in very difficult ways. if my memory serves me correct, only at one time could we even inform them, you know, to go to the official account. i'd like to talk about that a little bit more, dr. tucker. what do you think are the pros and cons, quite frankly, of us migrating our campaign followers to the official account and vice versa? >> so i really don't see any cons to it. essentially what you're solving is a friction problem. you have people who signed up who want to follow you and get information about you. now you have another vehicle where you're going to be providing that information. this is a costly problem for the constituents in that they're signed up to get information one way. now the information is coming through another channel. so we know that the way people -- say you're talking about a twitter account, right. you could tweet to your followers, right, that you are
switching accounts and they should sign up for this other account. but one of the things we know about twitter is that people don't see every single tweet that shows up in their feed. there's a lot of different factors that focus into this, depending on how many people they're following, depending on how often they log online. it's very, very easy for them to miss this. the way most people interact with twitter is not by going to people's pages who they're following and seeing what those people have tweeted recently, it's by this news feed function, which is exactly what i was talking about with not knowing how the algorithm serves up this information. in terms of the way things are ordered on the news feed. so it seems like if you had a process in place where people could migrate followers across these different lists, it would be only beneficial to constituents. there's a larger question, right, which is the larger issue of when we talk about people who are following you, if you want to try to have a situation where you have a way to communicate with constituents, social media
is never going to be information that's limited to constituents. so you may have other people who choose to follow you who aren't constituents, but of course your constituent, one of the key hallmarks of social media, is they can reshare your information and their followers can reshare the information as well. so if you pushed me for a pro to why you might want to keep these accounts separate, the only thing i would say is potentially for the members, you might have a greater national following on your campaign account because you are trying to raise money outside of your district. then you're trying to develop this kind of separate list of people who are in your district who might actually follow your official account. in practice, this is a time consuming effort that imposes costs on the members and imposes costs on the constituents and followers as well. >> thank you very much. mr. billigmeier, the task force -- you recommended setting up a task force so we could continue to explorer merging technologies. who would you have on the task force? there is quite a variety of expertise, particularly with
respect to members of congress. how would you decide -- what thoughts do you have about the task force? >> i'd probably echo a previous testimony from brad fitch of the congressional management foundation who suggested having communications directors and press secretaries as people who are on the ground and using all of those technologies and have a firm grasp on the tasks and work flows they're doing. that's a great group of people to start with. >> thank you. i'll yield back time. thank you. >> thank you. mr. pocan. >> thank you, mr. chairman. thank you to the panel. let me just pose a question for all of you around social media advertising because i don't do the franking in our office, but i was just talking to rodney about it. it sounds like if you have an ad on social media, we're going to review what you're saying and if the quantity is over a certain quantity is when we review it. yet the real value to social media is who you can target.
which is what i do with my business on a daily basis. you can get an ad as specific as your spouse to say happy birthday, right. we know that because you can get that specific. i can pick suburban women who belong to unions and send a message that i could never do via mail. but that's a lot of value to being able to use that, yet no one is ever going to look at that. can you address that issue, the difference? that's where my bigger concern is. you can really start to use it in an official capacity that's awful campaign-like. >> so it's important to understand that, again, this all varies across platforms. i'm going to speak in a general level here. what's important to understand, and i address this in the written testimony, is when members have access to social media for communications purposes, there are sort of two distinct ways you can do this. one is you can have what's called organic reach, which is you are posting things on social media and hopefully a lot of people have signed up to follow you and will share that information or will see that information. then there's targeted
advertising, which involves paying for ads. again, some platforms you can do this, some you can't. what you're talking about is this kind of hyper ability that's now generating what people are calling excessive microtargeting here. you have companies, especially google and facebook, which now can give you these incredible, incredible sort of precision in where you're targeting the ads. these are two very different things. this is one of the advice that i give in the written testimony that i had. anything that you do in terms of thinking about social media usage by members of congress, please be clear to sort of specify whether it is intended to apply to advertising, and we have all sorts of regulations around advertising by members of congress. or whether it's intended to apply to organic reach. and the interesting thing is, right, organic reach, and this is what i said in my remarks about it not being equal, different members of congress have different numbers of followers for lots of different reasons. there's no way you can ensure that that's equal.
advertising you can put limits on how much members of congress can spend on these different types of advertising, if that's in the realm of what you're doing with advertising. but these are -- again, so these are very different types of approaches here. and with the organic, you can't necessarily target it the same way you can target ads. >> and i guess i'm trying to get to the specifics of the abuse via that advertising part. i agree on the post. some people get it, some people don't. but you can be very, very specific to a point of really what we do in campaigns and no one is ever going to look at it under the current set of rules. so that's like the concern i'm trying to put out there. >> right. so again, that goes back to the latter part of my testimony about the importance of ensuring data access to outside analysts. so this is the only way that we're going to understand the political impact of social media, if outside analysts, people not working for the platforms themselves who are under ndas and have prepublication review with their companies, have access to this data to understand what's in
that. i think there are efforts under way. facebook has made an ads archive available that they're trying to, you know, take steps forward on this. in terms of as you're thinking about reforming and thinking about congressional communication in the 21st century, i would, on both of these dimensions, it's very important that you do what you can to make sure this data is made available for analysis, both by the government, so you can make correct policy, but also to people like myself, so that we can help you make correct policy by providing factual information and thorough information about what's happening in these regards. >> i have one comment as well. this goes back to, you know, kind of obsolete rules. the original rules say you're not allowed to collect data on constituents that identify whether they're a republican or a democrat based on party affiliation, but it's based on the communications you get from constituents and maybe surveys you send. you can very easily -- you can make a one-question survey today to your constituents that says
something like, do you support impeachment, and you're probably going to know exactly which political party is in that or with a few things. so, you know, the original intent of franking, i believe, was to not allow offices to overuse that information, but with all of the streams of public information now, it's very easy for you to know that information about constituents. >> the current framework as set up, the idea is that anything you're sending on the frank side or through official content is official representational content. that's how they separate campaign items from official representations. i wouldn't shortchange how much you can target using the frank. anyone who has a constituent relations management platform knows you can get someone who is this age, this gender who is sent two letters on gun control and can pretty easily do a 499 to them or something bigger. >> thank you.
>> all right. mr. davis. >> thank you, mr. chair. very interesting panel. thank you, all, for your comments. what you're discussing with us is what i consider delving into the weeds. really, that's what this select committee is here to do. my first question, we do share the goal of providing better experiences for members and making member communications with constituents even more effective and easier. the house isn't the easiest environment to operate in, right? so can you tell us about any roadblocks or difficulties you or other vendors run into that have prevented you from introducing some of the new features that you mentioned in your testimony? >> absolutely. i would say that one of the unique aspects of congress, as i'm sure you've heard, is there are state actors, security
trying to compromise our political process. so i believe for a long time, the house information resources has certainly had very restrictive guidelines around where data can be hosted, specifically constituent data, and you know, up until recently was very restrictive in terms of keeping that inside the house network, which restricts vendors from using things like cloud services a lot of times to do analysis on data. from what i understand, they've been doing a lot of work on that. their number one priority has been enabling vendors like myself to access those types of resources. i'm confident within the next year or two, we'll have the paths we need to leverage that, trying to give you a little example of where that winds up practically. when we did our research on machine learning, we partnered with a machine learning consulting group and took all the constituent mail from four offices and processed all that using modern machine learning,
which is very cpu intensive. they asked us how many servers we had on the house. we told them. they said it's probably going to take ten years to process all of that information. so we had to move all that to amazon, where there's specialized hardware to do that. and my understanding is that house information resources, the group that oversees all that, is making policies to allow us to do that eventually. >> how do you think some of the new technologies will be able to kind of move our communications into the 21st century? and we're here to talk about franking rules and regulations. what franking rules and regs do you think could still hold up that new technology from being as effective as it could be? >> i believe -- it's a great question, and i appreciate -- number one, i've met with a lot of the staff to kind of talk a lot about, you know, the challenges and hear their perspective on it. what i've heard is there's ambiguity on how these rules apply. here's a couple instances. a lot of people have talked
about having one of the franking rules is you can't send the same message to more than 500 people. let's say you wanted to deploy a modern chat bot to your website, right. constituents come a lot of times asking questions. a lot of times they'll send you a paper mail. a more efficient way to process that is have a little chat bot like a lot of companies have on your home page that says, what can i help you with? well, i'm interested in case work. great, here's the form to fill that out. but, you know, is that solicited? is it unsolicited? if you send more than 500 of those same responses to people on the chat bot, does that fall into the franking guidelines? that's why i recommend a task force to look at a lot of these things that offices have questions about and aren't quite sure where that goes. another area, if i can elaborate a little more, is that in the private sector, almost all of the communications are not big,
monolithic emails you get from vendors. they're small reminders, notifications. they're looking at your interests and making small predictions and then saying, you know, you bought these certain products. would you be interested in buying this other product? or you watched these movies on netflix. they make a prediction. are you interested in seeing these other movies? as a member of congress, you could do the same thing for constituents. if somebody writes in about, you know, a military base in your district, you could also notify them, hey, did you know i voted on legislation that affects veterans as well, making a prediction that they've been interested in some topics and they might be interested in other topics. when the franking model is people draft content, people approve content, then it gets sent out. in the private sector, that doesn't really exist. you have computers analyzing, deciding when to send messages, drafting the messages, and sending the messages. those two are incompatible. that's why there needs to be a big re-evaluation of the
process. >> i appreciate the panel. i appreciate your responses. it's interesting you mentioned kind of upselling new ideas and communications. i remember when i first started my first job. my upsell was, do you want fries with that? clearly it works. i yield back. >> thank you. ms. delbene. >> thank you. thanks to all of you for being here with us today. i want to follow up a little bit on the same theme. talk about other technologies and you talked about kind of some of the automated response or at least help to create responses. talk a little bit about kind of concerns you might have with the personalization of those responses, and do we get to a place where it's automatic responses versus really having a true conversation with our constituents. the personal side of it. i worry about how that could be lost. >> that's an excellent question.
i would say what technology can help you with is filter out -- so as a member of congress, kind of at your level, my understanding of members and what they're looking for is when they look at all the information they're getting from their constituents, they would like to do two things. number one, they kind of want to know a global picture of how does all of their constituency feel? what percentage of them support a particular bill? what percentage of them don't support it? and then after that, they're also looking for personal stories for how people are affected. when members of congress make speeches before congress, they usually don't show a graphic. they say sally in my district was affected by this policy in this way. we try and make sure we're using machine learning in a lot of ways to try and process that overall view and give you a good view of what constituents feel
in your district but also giving your staff the ability to identify those important stories. as you know, probably a lot -- half of the communications that come to congress are all templated, and their constituent clicks on, yes, i support this measure somewhere and you get kind of a templated message. you don't need your staff to eyeball those. that's where a machine can look at that and say, yes, we'll put that into the overall sentiment tally. when somebody writes in saying, i'm having trouble with getting case work, i'm a vet, i'm not getting the support that i need, and that needs to be handed off to caseworkers, that's where you don't want that to get lost in the mix and you want to make those personal connections. >> so you're talking about kind of taking incoming information and being able to parse it out so it's getting the right response or to the right person more quickly. >> yes. if i may, i'll give you a quick example. one, i recently visited one
office, and they -- i was looking at their practices. i noticed they had turned off every single automation and every single efficiency measure within the system. i said, i'm very curious about why you did this. they said, well, we had -- on everybody's contact form, you usually have an option that says, yes, i would like a response from you, or no, i just want you to know my opinion. it's a common practice. if a constituent isn't expecting a response, you kind of skim that and close it out because they're not really expecting a response. a veteran wrote in with suicidal notes, but clicked the i don't need a response and that kind of got lost in the process. so i think that's a unique aspect of congress. every message has a lot of weight, and you need a process that can find all of those things, but the tension is that your staff can't continue to eyeball every single message. so that's why we're looking at machine learning to try and find those very relevant messages in
this sea of noise. you see that a lot on social media where, you know, if you go and post something, you're going to get a lot of very interesting responses and comments on that. not a lot of them helpful. then one of them that may reference, again, somebody seeking case work or somebody having some trouble in the district that you still want to get without having to look at every -- you know, it's impossible to look at every single comment, every single retweet. but that's a good case for computers. >> thanks. dr. tucker, i think you had some response too. >> yeah, i just wanted to inject one word of caution in this, which is that we know that the users of any media, medium of communicating are going to be a biased sample of your constituents. so the people who have time to write hand letters to you, the people who have the means to get on the internet and send emails versus the people who sign up for social media platforms. and so i just think it's very important for the members to keep that in mind, that as they go -- you know, many, many years, the only way you got
communication was from letters. you have a good sense of which of your constituents are the kinds who are going to write letters, which are the ones that -- and that will allow you to interpret that through the lens of how representative is this sentiment that we're getting off handwritten letters or typewritten letters. now you're going to have members receiving communications from tons of different means. you're going to have mail. you're going to have phones. you're going to have emails. you're going to have automated emails. then we saw that the average member of congress has six different social media accounts. so that's six different types of platforms. i have some data about this in the report, but different people use these platforms at different rates. so this is like all the sudden now, there's lots of different biases. okay, we're hearing about this from comments on youtube. is that representative of my constituents? i think that there's a danger that with these types of tools that will automate across lots of different platforms, you'll get a sort of sense of false precision.
oh, it says 72% of the communications are in favor of this particular issue, but you don't know what that 72% is representing. so i just think that's a word of caution to think about that as we go forward. >> also in a district like mine where there's a lot of rural areas and not necessarily good broadband access, those aren't folks who can participate online as much. their voices will be lost, more likely to send letters or may not be able to participate day to day on the social media side. thank you very much. and i yield back, mr. chairman. >> i've just got one other thing i wanted to raise before we call it a day. i think one of the challenges members face is based on how we currently do things. you find yourself having to choose between doing more proactive communications with your constituents or paying your staff, right.
i think about my first term as a freshman member. you know, when everyone was a new hire, i had more capacity in my budget so that i was able to do that sort of proactive outreach and keep even the most remote, rural parts of my district, keep folks up to date on what we were working on. as i've tried to retain these terrifically talented people, you know, that slice of our office budget has, you know, shrunk stupendously. any thoughts on, as this committee deals with these issues, potential solutions to that? should we look at taking that franking out of the mra, the members resource, the office budget, or do you have other ideas? go ahead. >> so i have mixed feelings
about a change like moving franking out of the mra. i'm a big believer that we need to increase the resource available to members, particularly for staff, to pay them better and have more of them. it's vitally important for the legislative branch as a whole. traditionally, franking costs weren't in the mra. in the old days, the post office just ate the cost. and we never accounted for it. then starting in the '50s, congress started reimbursing them just with a general pool of funds in the leg branch appropriation bill. the reason it was changed was to try to reduce costs. personally attaching these costs to members, making them choose, put a market value on franking. all the sudden if you had to choose between staff and franking, you might frank a lot less. if it was a common pool, you could draw with no repercussions. people were going to spend a lot. so consequently, moving the franking itself out of the mra would probably, if you just did that period, would lead to an explosion in frank mail. so i would probably suggest doing that in -- coupling it with a cap of some sort.
even that would encourage members who currently spent nothing on franking to start spending on franking. that said, there's other costs to franking. one of the things about the mra, and we give it to members because we like the idea, believe in the idea that members should be able to represent their constituents as they see fit and arrange their offices as they see fit. that's great to have a decentralized system. on the other hand, there's certain things that every member spends money on. everybody has an office. we don't charge you rent to be here. then you just give it back. so things that are common costs, such as crm software, which runs tens of thousands of dollars a year for members, could easily be offboarded to a central fund. you wouldn't see people increases costs much. we could think of that as something that comes with the office. freeing up money for almost another half a staffer at that point. >> i would just note that when you think about social media as a form of communications, those two conflicting goals actually staff or communications overlap.
the cost of using social media to communicate with constituents is having the staff member who knows what they're doing and who can oversee this, deal with the multiple platforms, craft strategy and those sorts of things. so clearly that's one of, you know -- i've given you a lot of caveats about using social media as a communication strategy, but those are all caveats in terms of understanding the consequences of what's going to happen with it. it also offers tremendous promise for exactly this reason that you're talking about. so this organic content you can put out there on social media, these are things that have very low budget implications. in the sense of dealing with staff or not, what you're really looking for there is spending on staff who can help people manage that. >> one example, when i started working, interacting with offices a lot, say about ten years ago, the mail process was pretty specific. you had lcs who sorted the mail and las who drafted all the letters and stuff.
now it gradually migrated over time to lcs now drafting mail, and there's offices who now have interns drafting replies to constituents, which would have been unthinkable ten years ago. so i think that i agree with matt. the problem is the resources being available to this, to member offices. for us as a vendor, we've raised prices, i don't know, $35 a month over the last ten years of our crm, even though the cost of hiring when you're retaining programmers has just kind of gone through the roof. so those are just challenges. we have a lot of these little pains here and there because there's limited resources for member offices. >> terrific. with that, i'd like to thank all of our witnesses for their testimony today. you took what could be a dry subject and made it actually pretty interesting.
i also want to thank the select committee staff for their hard work in putting together these hearings and the budget committee for allowing us to use their room. and thank you for transcribing all that we're doing. and thank you to c-span for covering us. without objection, all members will have five legislative days within which to submit additional written questions. i ask our witnesses to please respond as promptly as you are able. with that, this hearing is adjourned. thanks, everyone. happy halloween.
weeknights this week, we are featuring american history tv programs as a preview of what's available every weekend on c-span3. tonight starting at 8:00 p.m. eastern, historian, park ranger and author philip greenwald gives an illustrated presentation on boston's role on the origins of the revolutionary war. the remarks focus on three pivotal events. the boston massacre, the boston tea party and the battles of lexington and concord. this was part of a day-long symposium co-hosted by the emerging revolutionary war blog. enjoy american history tv this week and every weekend. the media marketplace has shifted dramatically in the last dozen years or so. the s.e.c. has failed to keep pace. we have these rules in place that basically assume the entire media marketplace is three
broadcast television stations at night and a daily newspaper that clunks on your front doorstep in the morning. adds we're just talking, it is a vastly different market. >> brendan carr tonight at 8:00 eastern on "the communicators" on c-span 2. created by cable in 1979, c-span is brought to you by your local cable or satellite provider. c-span, your unfiltered view of government. the hudson institute holds a discussion on international organizations and the relevance of multilateral institutions
like the united nations, the world trade organization and the world bank. watch it live today at noon eastern on c-span, on line at c-span.org or listen live with the free c-span radio app. our c-span campaign 2020 bus team is traveling across the country visiting key battleground states in the 2020 presidential race, asking voters what issues they want presidential candidates to address during the campaign. >> i think one of the most pressing issues we are facing is poverty and income inequality. with the richest of the country getting richer and sort of cliche but the poor are getting poorer. something has to be done to equalize things, not necessarily taking money away from rich people, but making sure those at the lower end of the economic spectrum have more opportunity to better themselves, get better education and the country
getting jobs for people can get out of poverty, their children can get out of poverty and we can continue to build the middle class. >> one question i would have is how would you tackle the climate crisis without coming off as partisan. >> in 2020 i would like the candidates to focus more on the black agenda. i feel like it wasn't adequately discussed during the democratic primaries. the fact there is still a black agenda proves there is something wrong, there is not enough being done. in all honesty this is only one part of race reparations that needs to be taken seriously in america so i would like to see some things change. >> i was wondering what are the candidates doing right now during the campaign in order to attack the issues with global warming. every day we're seeing drastic changes here in the weather but also during the forest issues and forest fires and drastic changes in the climate, what is being done right now as we speak during your campaign to address the issues. >> voices from the campaign
trail, part of c-span's battleground states tour. the supreme court is deciding whether police can stop a car if the car owner has a suspended driver's license. it's based on police using automatic license plate readers which provide instant public and private information about a vehicle's owner. justices are considering whether the system provides reasonable suspicion to stop a driver and is constitutional. >> we'll hear argument next in case 18556, kansas versus glover. general krouse. >> thank you, mr. chief justice, and as it please of court. it permits a brief investigation on an officer's particularized suspici suspicion. it is the touchstone of reasonable suspicion. here deputy mayor found a vehicle on the road, learned that the registered driver was