[Date Prev][Date Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Date Index][Thread Index]

Sign-on for CRS Reports on the Internet

  Info-Policy-Notes - A newsletter available from listproc@tap.org
  July 14, 1997
         Sign-On for Congressional Research Service Reports
         Gary Ruskin taken the lead on this sign-on letter.  It asks the
  U.S. Congress to provide the public with access to congressional Research
  Service Reports on the Internet.  These are very useful reports that
  members of Congress often use as material for speechs or columns.  There
  have been efforts since 1991 to get these online.  Gary think we have a
  real shot at this now.  The following is a letter to House Oversight
  Committee Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) and Senate Rules Committee Chairman
  John Warner (R-VA).  If you are willing to add your name, send the
  following data to:
  BY Tuesday, July 29, 1997.
  Name  ___________________________________________________
  Title (optional)  _______________________________________
  Affiliation (optional) __________________________________
  Address _________________________________________________
  City, State, Zip (very important) _______________________
  e-mail address __________________________________________
       The letter follows:
  Honorable William Thomas, Chairman
  Committee on House Oversight
  United States House of Representatives
  Washington, DC 20515
  Honorable John Warner, Chairman
  Committee on Rules
  United States Senate
  Washington, DC 20510
       RE:  Placing Congressional Research Service
            Reports and Products on the Internet
  Dear Chairmen Thomas and Warner:
       On June 25th, the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress
  appointed a task force consisting of Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS)
  and Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) to recommend whether some
  Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and products should
  be made available to the public via the Internet.  We are
  concerned that the appointment of a task force will simply delay
  placing CRS products on the Internet.
       As Chairmen of the internal administrative committees of the
  House of Representatives and Senate, each of you has the
  authority at present to place CRS products on the Internet.  Many
  of these CRS products are currently available to members of
  Congress and their staffs on an internal congressional intranet. 
  We are writing to urge you to place all generic CRS products on
  the Internet, which would improve citizens' ability to identify
  and obtain them.
       The Congressional Research Service is a taxpayer-funded
  research organization within the Library of Congress, with an
  annual budget of nearly $63 million. It is a research arm of the
  U. S. Congress, staffed by hundreds of talented independent issue
  experts who prepare valuable reports and information products,
  including CRS Reports, Info Packs, Issue Briefs, and Audio
  Briefs.  During fiscal year 1996, CRS prepared more than 1,000
  new written research products for the Congress.
       But Congress distributes few CRS products via the Internet. 
  Citizens cannot obtain most CRS products directly.  Instead, we
  must engage in the burdensome and time-consuming process of
  requesting a member of Congress to send CRS products to us.
  Often, citizens must wait for weeks or even months before such a
  request is filled.  This barrier to obtaining CRS products serves
  no useful purpose, and harms citizens' ability to participate in
  the congressional legislative process.
       Instead of waiting for a member of Congress to send CRS
  products, citizens may purchase them from a commercial vendor. 
  For example, Penny Hill Press charges an annual subscription rate
  of $190 per year plus $2.75 per CRS report plus 2.5 cents per
  page.  Nonsubscribers pay $47 for up to five CRS reports.
       House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) has repeatedly supported
  placing congressional materials on the Internet.  On November 11,
  1994, in a speech to the Washington Research Group Symposium, he
  promised that "we will change the rules of the House to require
  that all documents and all conference reports and all committee
  reports be filed electronically as well as in writing and that
  they cannot be filed until they are available to any citizen who
  wants to pull them up.  Thus, information will be available to
  every citizen in the country at the same moment it is available
  to the highest paid Washington lobbyist."
       Despite Speaker Gingrich's speech more than 2 1/2 years ago,
  most CRS products are available electronically only to members of
  Congress and their staffs.  On June 5, 1997, CRS Director Daniel
  Mulhollan boasted in testimony to Senate Appropriations
  Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch that "the CRS Home Page
  makes available online exclusively to congressional offices all
  CRS issue briefs and numerous reports....Through our Home Page
  the Congress has integrated access to a wide range of products
  and information.  This service is now readily accessible
  electronically to Members and staff 24 hours a day."  But not to
       Nothing in the statutory charter of the CRS, or any other
  federal law or House or Senate rule, prevents Congress from
  placing these CRS products on the Internet.  No change in federal
  law, nor House nor Senate Rule is required to place CRS products
  on the Internet. Neither the Joint Committee on the Library, nor
  the Senate Rules Committee, nor the House Oversight Committee
  need approve placing CRS products on the Internet.  This is an
  internal administrative matter.  Both Chairman Thomas and
  Chairman Warner separately have the authority to place CRS
  products on the House and Senate World Wide Web sites.  
       Although the 105th and 104th Congresses have made an effort
  to place some congressional documents on the Internet, many
  important Congressional materials are still not available on the
  Internet, including most committee prints and discussion drafts
  of bills, chairman's marks, voting records in a non-partisan
  database, most transcripts of hearings, financial disclosure
  reports, texts of committee and floor amendments, transcripts of
  committee mark-ups, franked mass mailings, lobbyist disclosure
  reports, Statements of Disbursements of the House, and Secretary
  of the Senate reports.
       In his House and Senate testimony, CRS Director Mulhollan
  highlighted the benefits that the CRS provides to new members of
  Congress.   He noted that CRS "offer[s] assistance tailored to
  the unique needs of new Members."  Many of those needs are for
  general briefing materials on substantive and procedural matters. 
  Such briefing materials could be of great use to citizens as
  well.  James Madison aptly described the need for such public
  information when he wrote that "A popular government, without
  popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a
  Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both.  Knowledge
  will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their
  own Governors, must arm themselves with the power that knowledge
        The Congressional Research Service produces some of the
  best research in the federal government.  We believe that
  taxpayers ought to be able to read the research that we pay for. 
  We urge you to place these valuable CRS products -- including CRS
  Reports, Info Packs, Issue Briefs, and Audio Briefs -- on the
  Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
  James Love, Director, Consumer Project on Technology
  Lori Fena, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
  Shabbir J. Safdar, Co-founder, Voters Telecommunications Watch
  Audrie Krause, Executive Director, NetAction
  Lucinda Sikes, Staff Attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group
  Kim Alexander, Executive Director, California Voter Foundation
  cc:  Honorable Conrad Burns
       Honorable Thad Cochran
       Honorable Vernon Ehlers
       Honorable Newt Gingrich
       Honorable Ted Stevens
       Honorable Rick White
  INFORMATION POLICY NOTES is a newsletter sponsored by the Consumer Project
  on Technology (CPT), a project of Ralph Nader's Center for Study of
  Responsive Law.  The LISTPROC services are provide by Essential
  Information.  Archives of Info-Policy-Notes are available from
  http://www.essential.org/listproc/info-policy-notes/ (no period).  CPT's
  Web page is http://www.cptech.org (no period).  CPT can both be reached
  off the net at P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036, Voice: 202/387-8030;
  Fax: 202/234-5176.  Subscription requests to listproc@tap.org with the
  message:  subscribe info-policy-notes Jane Doe