August 22, 1995

Speaker Newt Gingrich
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515
via the Internet: GEORGIA6@HR.HOUSE.GOV

Dear Speaker Gingrich:

We are writing to ask for a renewed commitment to provide Americans with online access to essential Congressional documents.

In your November 11, 1994 remarks to the Washington Research Group Symposium, which are reprinted in your book "Contract With America," you state 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."

On January 5, 1995, you voiced your support for a letter signed by more than 800 Americans requesting free online access to Congressional documents. Commenting on their letter, you said, according to the January 14, 1995 issue of the National Journal, "Great! I want every American to have the maximum access to information, with the minimum cost, with the greatest convenience."

But your promise to provide online access to Congressional documents still remains unfulfilled. There are many important Congressional documents which are not available on the Library of Congress THOMAS system, GPO Access or any other free government online service. In particular:

1. Committee prints of bills. One of the most serious problems is the restricted access to "committee prints" of bills. While ordinary citizens are examining the copies of bills which have been introduced and made available through THOMAS and GPO Access, lobbyists and other well-connected insiders are studying the paper copies of a committee print or "chairman's mark" of a bill, which are the relevant documents for legislation. The House policy of preventing GPO from disseminating committee prints without permission of the chair of the committee is outrageous and should be changed. These documents should be available on the Internet as soon as they are available.

2. Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports. The Federal Elections Commission (FEC) reports on campaign contributions are of interest to millions of Americans. Online access through THOMAS or GPO Access would greatly broaden the dissemination of this important information. Currently, the FEC charges $20 per hour for a dial-up system which is not connected to the Internet.

3. Committee reports. When a committee passes a bill, it provides a report with important information explaining the bill, the hearings held, and the dissenting views on the legislation. Your promise to provide these documents on the Internet has not been fulfilled. As a result, citizens are still having great difficulty following the furious pace of legislative activity on
a wide range of issues.

4. Voting records of members of Congress. While the votes on bills reaching the floor of the Senate or House are recorded in the online version of the Congressional Record, it is very time-consuming and often difficult to find these without extensive browsing of the documents. As we have suggested before, citizens should be able to access voting records on bills and amendments directly, indexed by bill title, bill number, and bill subject.

5. Amendments. Amendments should be made available on THOMAS as early as possible, so that citizens can review the substance of the amendment and make their views heard. For example, until an amendment is online, it should not be considered "introduced."

6. Congressional Research Service reports. In September 1994, CRS announced a pilot project for the electronic distribution of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs to Congressional offices. However, ordinary citizens are still without online access to these documents. These documents should be available to the public on THOMAS and GPO Access.

7. Verbatim transcripts (both corrected and uncorrected) from Congressional Hearings. Lobbyists can buy these from transcribers, but ordinary citizens have to wait months or even years for printed hearing records. We want uncorrected transcripts made available the day after the hearing, and corrected transcripts available ASAP.

8. Congressional testimonies. If persons testifying before Congress provide an electronic copy of their prepared testimony, the testimony should be immediately placed on THOMAS or GPO Access for broader public access. All government officials should be required to provide electronic copies of their prepared testimonies for public dissemination.

9. Discharge Petitions. The lists of Discharge Petition signers should be available online.

If you have any questions about how the House might put these materials online, or if you wish to discuss these issues, you can contact James Love at (202) 387-8030 or Gary Ruskin at (202) 296-2787.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this matter.

Sincerely,

James Love, Director, Taxpayer Assets Project
Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
Ann McBride, President, Common Cause
Paul Jacob, Executive Director, U. S. Term Limits
Ellen Miller, Executive Director, Center for Responsive Politics
Lori Fena, Executive Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
Scott Armstrong, Executive Director, The Information Trust
Cleta Deatherage Mitchell, Director, Term Limits Legal Institute
David Hawkins, Senior Attorney, Natural Resources Defense Council
Michael Panetta, CyberStrategy Project, Federation of American Scientists
Richard Vuernick, Legal Policy Director, Citizen Action
Jim Warren, Columnist, Govt. Technology, MicroTimes, BoardWatch
Eric Roberts, President, Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility
Tom Devine, Legal Director, Government Accountability Project
Danielle Brian, Executive Director, Project on Government Oversight
Conrad Martin, Executive Director, Fund for Constitutional Government
Stephen G. Sanders, President and General Manager, Northern Arkansas Telephone Company
Christian Callahan, Industrial Engineering Manager, McDonnell Douglas Corporation
Diane Garner, Head of Government Documents, Widener Library, Harvard University
Sandy Peterson, Documents Librarian, Yale University
David Woolley, President, Chrysalis Software, Inc.
Beverly J. Chain, Director, Office of Communication, United Church of Christ
Alan Sugarman, President and CEO, Hyperlaw, Inc.
Herman A. Stuhl, Chairman of the Board, New York Institute of Legal Research
Edward Zuckerman, Editor and Publisher, the Political Finance and Lobby Reporter
Al Whaley, President, Sunnyside Computing, Inc.