Congressional Reform Briefings                                   February 2, 1998

Bills would put Congressional Research Service reports on the Internet,
help citizens to understand issues pending before Congress.

OVERVIEW:
Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Dan Coats (R-IN), and Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) introduced legislation last week to place Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and products on the Internet. These excellent bills would give citizens timely access to CRS reports on scores of important issues pending before the Congress. Citizens, scholars, journalists, librarians, and businesses have long wanted easy access to CRS reports.

Please call, fax, write, or e-mail your Members of Congress to urge them to co-sponsor these bills (S. 1578, H.R. 3131) to put CRS reports and products on the Internet.

The CRS is a division of the Library of Congress. It provides high-quality, non-partisan legislative analysis and information to Members of Congress. CRS has over 3,000 reports currently available on a wide range of issues. In a recent editorial, Roll Call described CRS reports as "often the most trenchant and useful monographs available on a subject." For fiscal year 1998, CRS is funded with $64.6 million of taxpayer dollars.

Taxpayers ought to be able to read the research that we pay for. But taxpayers cannot obtain most CRS reports directly. Instead, we must purchase them from private vendors, or engage in the burdensome and time-consuming process of requesting a member of Congress to send CRS reports to us. Often, citizens must wait for weeks or even months before such a request is filled. This barrier to obtaining CRS reports serves no useful purpose, and harms citizens' ability to participate in the congressional legislative process.

The legislation is endorsed by the Congressional Accountability Project; Common Cause; League of Women Voters of the United States; American Conservative Union; IBM Corporation; America Online, Inc.; Netscape Communications Corp.; Intel Corp.; National Association of Manufacturers; Russell Verney, Chairman of the Reform Party; and many others. It is also sponsored in the House by Reps. Marty Meehan (D-MA), Rick White (R-WA), Connie Morella (R-MD), Paul McHale (D-PA), and Senators Lauch Faircloth (R-NC) and John Ashcroft (R-MO).

The Internet is an efficient and inexpensive technology for distributing government information to the public. The marginal cost of disseminating government information over the Internet is essentially zero. Congress ought to use this technology to distribute the core working documents of our democracy to the public.

But Congress has been inexcusably slow in employing the Internet for distributing anything but self-serving PR materials, and the least useful congressional documents. The most valuable congressional materials are still not available on the Internet, including the most important drafts of bills, voting records in a non-partisan database, most transcripts of hearings, draft committee and conference reports, texts of committee and floor amendments, lobbyist disclosure reports, and congressional office expenditure reports.

The bills are now pending before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, and the House Committee on Oversight. The Chairmen of those Committees, Senator John Warner (R-VA) and Rep. Bill Thomas (R-CA) have, in general, poor records regarding providing taxpayers and citizens with access to congressional and other federal government documents.

Congress ought to swiftly pass these bills to put CRS reports on the Internet as a down-payment toward providing citizens with the full range of information they need to carry out their civic duties and responsibilities.

WHAT YOU CAN DO TO HELP:
1. Call, write, fax, or e-mail your House Member in support of H.R. 3131. Tell your House Member that you want them to co-sponsor H.R. 3131. The Congressional switchboard phone number is (202) 224-3121. For a list of e-mail addresses for Members of Congress, see The Electronic Activist.

2. Call, write, fax, or e-mail your senators in support of S. 1578. Tell your senators that you want them to co-sponsor S. 1578.

3. Call, write, fax, or e-mail Senator John Warner, the Chairman of the Senate committee on Rules, and Rep. Bill Thomas, the Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight, to urge them to support these bills to put CRS reports and products on the Internet. (Sen. Warner's phone: 202-224-2023, fax: 202-224-6295, e-mail: SENATOR@WARNER.SENATE.GOV; Rep. Thomas's phone: 202-225-2915, fax: 202-225-2908, e-mail: none.)

BACKGROUND and OTHER RESOURCES:
For more information about the failure of the Congress to place its documents on the Internet, see <http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/national/longterm/fedguide/stories/fig112197.htm>.

To view abstracts of the excellent reports produced by the Congressional Research Service, see the Penny Hill Press web page.  <http://www.clark.net/pub/pennyhill/pennyhill.html>.

The Congressional Accountability Project is a Congressional watchdog group affiliated with Ralph Nader. For more information about the Congressional Accountability Project, direct your web browser to http://www.essential.org/orgs/CAP/CAP.html or send e-mail to <gary@essential.org>.

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