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
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
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.
In September, 1995 we wrote to Speaker Gingrich to protest the failure
of the House Ways and Means Committee to provide online access to chairman's
marks for a 700-page major tax bill involving billions of dollars. When
we called the Ways and Means Committee to obtain a copy of those chairman's
marks, we were told by Committee staff that we would have to purchase a
printed copy from the Bureau of National Affairs (BNA). BNA told us the
price of those chairman's marks was $27.
In January, during the debates over the telecommunications deregulation
bill -- arguably the most important legislation approved in the 104th Congress
-- the only source for the most up-to-date drafts of the legislation was
not THOMAS or GPO Access but the Regional Bell Operating Companies Internet
site. Committee prints and discussion drafts of the bill were not available
through THOMAS or GPO Access. It is outrageous that citizens should have
had to rely on telephone companies to obtain up-to-date drafts of bills
produced by the United States Congress.
In May, we wrote to Senators Nancy Landon Kassebaum and John Warner regarding
the failure of the Senate Labor Committee to provide online access to discussion
drafts of legislation governing the privacy safeguards for medical records.
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:
Committee prints and discussion drafts of bills and Chairman's Marks.
While citizens are examining the copies of bills which have been introduced
and made available through THOMAS and GPO Access, Washington lobbyists
are studying the paper copies of a committee print, discussion draft, or
"chairman's mark" of a bill, which are the relevant documents for legislation.
House policy currently prevents the U. S. Government Printing Office (GPO)
from disseminating committee prints without permission of the chair of
the Committee. We believe this policy is indefensible and should be changed
immediately. We urge you to require that the GPO disseminate all versions
of House bills electronically, including all committee prints, widely-disseminated
discussion drafts, and chairmans marks.
Verbatim transcripts (both corrected and uncorrected) from House Hearings.
Lobbyists can buy transcripts of House hearings from transcribers, but
most taxpayers have to wait months or more than a year for printed hearing
records. We urge you to support providing online access to verbatim transcripts
-- both corrected and uncorrected -- of House hearings as soon as possible
after the hearings have taken place.
Prepared testimonies to House committees. We recommend that it should
be House policy to ask witnesses testifying before House committees to
provide an electronic copy of their prepared testimony, and then require
the testimony to be immediately placed online on THOMAS and GPO Access.
In addition, all government officials should be required to provide electronic
copies of their prepared testimonies for public dissemination.
Voting records of Representatives. While the votes on bills reaching
the floor of the House are recorded in the online version of the Congressional
Record, it is often time-consuming and difficult for citizens to find these
votes without extensive browsing of the documents. Even worse, the online
version of the Congressional Record only contains 1993-present. Previous
votes are not available online through THOMAS or GPO Access. We recommend
that you support providing online access to voting records of Representatives
with an easily searchable database, indexed by member name, bill title,
bill number, and bill subject.
Amendments. We urge you to support providing online access to the
texts of House amendments, and that until a bill or amendment is online,
it should not be considered "introduced."
Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs. In
September 1994, CRS announced a pilot project for the electronic distribution
of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs to Congressional offices. However, the
taxpayers are still without online access to CRS Reports and Issue Briefs.
Committee reports. GPO Access distributes numbered committee reports
for the 104th Congress. But not all committee reports are officially "reported,"
and therefore not all committee reports are made available through GPO
Access. In addition, House committee reports before the 104th Congress
are not available online through GPO Access or any other government online
service. We urge you to support providing online access to all House committee
reports, including those not officially "reported."
Transcripts (both corrected and uncorrected) of House committee mark-ups.
We urge you to provide online access to the corrected and uncorrected texts
of committee mark-ups as soon as possible after the mark-ups have taken
Conference reports. Conference reports for the second session of
the 103rd and the full 104th Congress are now available online by searching
the online versions of Congressional Record. However, conference reports
before the 103rd Congress are not available online. We urge you to support
providing online access to conference reports before the 103rd Congress.
Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports. The Federal Elections
Commission (FEC) reports on campaign contributions are of great interest
to millions of Americans. Online access through THOMAS or GPO Access would
greatly broaden the dissemination of this important information. We urge
you to require the FEC to provide online access to the full history of
FEC campaign contribution data searchable by candidate name, contributor,
PAC, party, and campaign committee.
Lobbyist Disclosure reports. The Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995
requires collection of valuable information regarding the activities of
lobbyists. Unfortunately, this information is only made available at the
House Legislative Resource Center and the Senate Office of Public Records.
We urge you to make lobbyist disclosure reports available online.
House Financial Disclosure reports. GPO Access provides online access
to nearly all of the series of numbered "House Documents" in the 104th
Congress. One egregious exception is House Financial Disclosure reports,
which are not available online through GPO Access or THOMAS.
Statement of Disbursements of the House. During the 104th Congress,
the House renamed, revised, and improved the old Clerk of the House reports,
which document how each House member has spent their Member's Representational
Allowance funds. These statements are not available either through GPO
Access or THOMAS.
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.
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
Lori Fena, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Scott Armstrong, Executive Director, Information Trust
Richard L. Ottinger, Dean, Pace University School of Law, former member
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