FACT SHEET ON CONGRESS AND THE INTERNET

Congress has failed to make available to the public via the Internet many of the most important congressional documents. These key congressional documents and materials include:

Voting records. Access to voting records is a cornerstone of democratic accountability. Congress should place on the Internet an searchable database of congressional votes, indexed by bill name, bill subject, bill title, Member name, etc. Such a database would be simple and inexpensive to produce and maintain.

Congress ought to make it easy for citizens to obtain congressional voting records. Currently, roll call votes are available on Congress's Thomas web site, but they are not in a searchable database, so it is time-consuming and difficult to compile a Member's voting record from the Thomas web site.

Many Members of Congress don't want the public to know how they vote on many issues, especially those votes that favor what Thomas Jefferson called "the moneyed interests." Campaigns are now built on money and slogans. It is not easy to obtain the truth about what Members of Congress really do in Washington. Placing congressional voting records on the Internet would give many citizens easy access to this important information. With a shift in the balance of specific knowledge comes a significant shift in the balance of power between the rulers and those they rule. This could improve the quality of congressional campaigns, the questions asked and the issues addressed during the campaign.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and products. Congress should place on the Internet all CRS reports, issue briefs, and other generic CRS products. U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Representatives Christopher Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) re-introduced legislation to place Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and products on the Internet. These bills (S. 393, H.R. 654) would give citizens timely access to CRS reports on scores of important issues pending before Congress. Citizens, scholars, journalists, librarians, and businesses have long wanted easy access to CRS reports.

The CRS is a division of the Library of Congress, with a taxpayer-funded budget of $67.1 million in fiscal year 1999. CRS provides high-quality, non-partisan legislative analysis and information to Members of Congress. Currently, CRS has about 2,700 reports available on an internal congressional intranet only for use by Members of Congress and their staffs -- not the public. About 300 CRS reports are available on Senator Tom Daschle's (D-SD) web site at <http://daschle.senate.gov/services/crs.html>. About 80 other CRS reports are on the House Rules Committee web site at <http://www.house.gov/rules/crs_reports.htm>.

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 (S. 393, H.R. 654) is endorsed by the American Association of Law Libraries, American Conservative Union, American Society of Newspaper Editors, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Common Cause, Computer & Communications Industry Association, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, Consumer Project on Technology, Congressional Accountability Project, Electronic Frontier Foundation, Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), League of Women Voters of the U.S., National Association of Manufacturers, National Newspaper Association, National Taxpayers Union, OMB Watch, Public Citizen, Radio-Television News Directors Association, Reform Party of the United States, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG).

The bills are now pending before the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, and the House Committee on House Administration.

Texts of bills and amendments. Congress should require that all texts of bills be placed on the Internet as soon as they are printed or made available to lobbyists or members of a committee or subcommittee. The most important texts of bills -- discussion drafts, chairmans marks, managers marks, committee prints - are rarely placed on the Internet. So, while Washington lobbyists read the relevant drafts of bills, most Americans can only obtain antiquated versions. This two-tiered distribution system provides aid and solace to Washington lobbyists and their predominantly corporate clients, and the congressional committee chairmen who may do their bidding behind closed doors in return for campaign contributions. However, it greatly injures the ability of most citizens to advocate on their own behalf.

Without access to these crucial texts of bills, it is difficult for citizens to petition their Congress to seek redress of grievances. How can citizens be expected to petition their Congress knowledgeably without access to the relevant legislative documents? The current system of distributing congressional documents contravenes the spirit of the constitutional guarantee that "Congress shall make no law...abridging...the right of the people...to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

Corrected and uncorrected hearing records and written testimony. Congress should place on the Internet all congressional hearing records and written testimony. Congress invites experts and scholars of varied political viewpoints to testify about the weighty issues facing our country, and the world. These hearings are of great interest and value. They are a treasure trove of useful facts, information, thoughts, and opinions.

Financial disclosure reports. Congress should place on the Internet congressional financial disclosure reports for at least the previous six years. Congressional financial disclosure reports are computerized in the House and Senate, but only some reports are available via the Internet - on the private, non-profit Center for Responsive Politics website.

Draft committee and conference reports. Congress should place on the Internet draft committee and conference reports as soon as they are printed or made available to lobbyists or members of a committee or subcommittee. Much of what Washington lobbyists do involves surreptitiously inserting small provisions in committee or conference reports. Such provisions may have great impact on the way a law is carried out, or how government funding is distributed. Just as draft texts of bills should be placed on the Internet, so should draft committee and conference reports.