Online reporting system for lobbyists another failure for Fed IT

Pushing the deadline, lobbyists encounter confusing, frustrating error messages, as House backs off on electronic filing requirement.

Lobbyists trying to electronically file their disclosure reports, as required by law, were frustrated this week as the Congressional filing system refused to take many submissions, the Washington Post reports.

Paul A. Miller, president of the American League of Lobbyists, and Thomas M. Susman, co-editor of the American Bar Association's "The Lobbying Manual," tried to send their reports to the clerk of the House of Representatives via the Internet on Tuesday, the filing deadline. But, like many of their colleagues, they were frustrated to receive a return message that said "Submission status: failed."

Unable to use the new filing method, they were forced to print out their reports and mail or fax them with a cover letter explaining that at least they had tried.

"The frustration has been overwhelming," Miller said.

"I have to say there's a high level of disappointment," Susman agreed. "It's fairly widespread."

The problem seems to center around a requirement that submitters get digital signatures. A House staffer thought the system worked pretty well, but in any case there were enough problems that the electronic requirement was waived, and many lobbyists faxed their reports in.

As the date approached, many lobbyists who had not yet sent their forms found that they could not get them accepted by the House. Lee Bechtel of Bechtel & Associates said he tried eight times over three days starting on Sunday and, as of yesterday, had not made it work.

Some lobbyists who did manage to file on time had to work for hours, and in some cases days, to bring their computers into compliance with the House's requirements, according to Patti Jo Baber, executive director of the American League of Lobbyists.

Others tried but failed to make the Internet connection operate. Susman, a partner at Ropes & Gray LLP, tried to send about 25 reports covering his firm's lobbying clients. "But they bounced back," he said, and he is not sure why.

Miller faxed in his report with an explanatory note. His problem was that he had not received a valid "digital signature" on time, he said.

"We knew there were going to be problems," Miller explained. "I'm not sure we knew there would be this number of problems."