July 1, 1996

Honorable David Dreier
Chairman, Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House
House Rules Committee
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
Honorable Newt Gingrich

Speaker of the House
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

RE: Requiring the House of Representatives to Provide Taxpayers with Access to House Documents via the Internet

Dear Representatives Dreier and Gingrich:

We are writing to urge the Subcommittee on Rules and Organization of the House to approve changes in House Rules requiring the House to provide the public with online access to House documents. As a part of The 21st Century Congress Project, the Subcommittee is considering issuing recommendations for new House Rules governing which House documents will be made available to the public via the Internet.

We want to express the enormous gratitude of the American people and the Internet community for establishing THOMAS, which provides citizens with online access to some Congressional documents. Similarly, there is gratitude for the Speaker's repeated statements in support of providing access to Congressional documents via the Internet. For example, in a November 11, 1994 speech, Representative Gingrich said 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 that it is available to the highest paid Washington lobbyist."

And yet, as you know, many crucial House documents are still not available online. In spite of the Speaker's commitment, the Republican House and Senate leadership have followed in the same, old, discredited tradition of limited access to key legislative documents perfected under previous Democratic-controlled Congresses -- the same tradition that provides enormous political advantage to Washington lobbyists while leaving the American people without real-time access to the core documents of our democracy.

We are growing increasingly frustrated with the failure of the 104th Congress to provide online access to these documents. We have repeatedly pointed out the effects of these anti-democratic policies during the 104th Congress.

We also have written letters to Rep. Vern Ehlers in December, 1994, to Speaker Gingrich in August, 1995, and to Senator Warner in March, 1996 requesting that this Congress provide online access to key Congressional documents. We have yet to receive a written response to any of these letters.

Chairman Dreier has stated that the goal of The 21st Century Congress Project "is to develop and recommend changes in Congress' operations and legislative procedures that will allow technology to make the institution [Congress] more open, accountable and effective." That goal can only be met by requiring the House to make the following documents available to the public via the Internet:
 

     
We hope that The 21st Century Congress Project will recommend these documents be provided to the public via the Internet. If you have any questions about this letter, please contact Gary Ruskin at (202) 296-2787, or James Love at (202) 387-8030.

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
James Love, Director, Consumer Project on Technology
Jim Warren, Columnist, open-government advocate and GovAccess Editor
Audrie Krause, Executive Director, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Lori Fena, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Scott Armstrong, Executive Director, Information Trust
Richard L. Ottinger, Dean, Pace University School of Law, former member of Congress
James Neff, Chair, Access Committee, Investigative Reporters and Editors
Marjorie Power, City Council Member, Montpelier, Vermont
Ellen Miller, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
Peggy Cairns, Assistant Civil Librarian, U.S. Department of Justice
Paula Collins, State Chair, United We Stand America, Massachusetts
Shabbir Safdar, Co-Founder, Voters Telecommunications Watch
Harry Martin III, Librarian and Professor of Law, Harvard Law School
Roger Possner, City Librarian, Covina Public Library, California

cc: Representative Vern Ehlers
Representative Rick White
Representative Rick Boucher
Representative Peter Hoekstra
Representative Bill Thomas
Representative Anthony Beilenson
Representative Gerald Solomon
Representative Joe Moakley
Senator John Warner