Communication in Congress

Members, Staff, and the Search for Information

David Whiteman

Does Congress know enough to legislate for the nation? Reforms over the last two decades, increasing the number of congressional staff and enhancing congressional support agencies, have dramatically expanded the availability of policy information. In a groundbreaking new study of congressional communication networks, David Whiteman finds that, although on any particular issue there are very few in Congress undertaking extensive searches for information, the collective base of information generated by all searches is unexpectedly comprehensive.

As Whiteman reminds us, communication lies at the core of congressional decision making and thus at the core of representative democracy itself. Treating each congressional office as an "enterprise" composed of the elected official and associated personal and committee staff, he explores how enterprises develop the communication networks they need to obtain information and policy analysis from interest groups, executive agencies, congressional support agencies, and policy research organizations.

“Whiteman takes us inside the communication networks that lie at the heart of the lawmaking process. In doing so he moves beyond roll-call votes and even individual members, using congressional ‘enterprises’ as his unit of analysis. Firmly grounded in theory yet abounding in empirical detail drawn from interviews and observations, this book is essential reading.”

—Roger H. Davidson, coeditor of The Encyclopedia of the United States Congress

“The best study I have read about communication in Congress or the role of congressional staff. A major contribution.”

—C. Lawrence Evans, author of Leadership in Congress

See all reviews...

Relying on network analysis and more than 300 interviews with senators, representatives, and staff members during the 99th Congress, Whiteman provides an in-depth analysis of congressional communication based on four specific issue networks in the health and transportation policy domains. After determining each enterprise's level of interest in each issue, he contrasts the extensive searches of the few enterprises that have chosen to become involved in the issue with the much more limited searches of the vast majority of enterprises merely staying attentive to developments.

Whiteman is particularly careful to assess the place of policy analysis within the full range of information sources available to enterprises. By following a sample of policy analysis projects throughout the course of an entire Congress, he is able to establish that Congress is using, much more than previously acknowledged, information from policy analysts and other expert sources.

The first study to look closely at the contributions of congressional staff within the context of overall congressional communication networks, Whiteman's book will be useful to scholars and teachers of legislative politics, public policy, policy analysis, and political communication. In addition, with its accessible language and wealth of anecdotes and practical examples, it should be especially appealing to all citizens, lobbyists, government employees, and policy analysts attempting to communicate with Congress.

About the Author

David Whiteman is associate professor of government at the University of South Carolina and the author of numerous articles in journals such as Legislative Studies Quarterly, American Politics Quarterly, Western Political Quarterly, International Journal of Public Administration, Human Rights Quarterly, and Knowledge.

Additional Titles in the Studies in Government and Public Policy Series