Congressional Accountability Project
1611 Connecticut Ave. NW Suite 3A
Washington, DC 20009
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406

August 6, 1997

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 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 citizens.

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, 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 gives."

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 Internet.

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
James Love, Director, Consumer Project on Technology
David A. Keene, Chairman, American Conservative Union
David Peyton, Director, Technology Policy, National Association of Manufacturers
Ann McBride, President, Common Cause
Peter J. Sepp, Vice-President for Communications, National Taxpayers Union
Steve Geimann, President, Society of Professional Journalists
Lori Fena, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Michael F. Jacobson, Executive Director, Center for Science in the Public Interest
Kent Cooper, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
James L. Martin, President, 60 Plus Association
John R. MacArthur, President and Publisher, Harper's Magazine
Sandra L. Butler, President, United Seniors Association
Ralph De Gennaro, Executive Director, Taxpayers for Common Sense
Aki Namioka, President, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Brant Houston, President, Investigative Reporters and Editors
Jim Warren, columnist, open-government advocate and Editor, GovAccess
Lynn Chadwick, President & CEO, National Federation of Community Broadcasters
Kim Alexander, Executive Director, California Voter Foundation
John J. Shanahan, Vice Admiral USN (Ret.), Director, Center for Defense Information
Scott Bennett, University Librarian, Yale University
Amy Moritz Ridenour, President, National Center for Public Policy Research
James Neff, Director, Kiplinger Reporting Program, Ohio State University
Audrie Krause, Executive Director, NetAction
Patrick Grace, Managing Librarian, Seattle Public Library
Lucinda Sikes, Staff Attorney, Public Citizen Litigation Group
Shabbir J. Safdar, Co-founder, Voters Telecommunications Watch
Patrice McDermott, Information Policy Analyst, OMB Watch
Steven Aftergood, Senior Research Analyst, Federation of American Scientists
 
 

cc: Honorable Conrad Burns
Honorable Thad Cochran
Honorable Vernon Ehlers
Honorable Newt Gingrich
Honorable Ted Stevens
Honorable Rick White