Congressional Accountability Project
1322 18th Street NW Suite 36
Washington DC 20036
(202) 296-2787
fax (202) 833-2406

March 8, 1996

Honorable John Warner
Chairman, Senate Rules and Administration Committee
United States Senate
Washington, DC 20510

Dear Senator Warner:

On February 29, 1996, you announced the "Operation Daylight" initiative to "provide the public with a better understanding of the Senate infrastructure." Operation Daylight will involve the formation of a "management task force" to develop a "strategic plan" for the use of information technologies in the United States Senate. We believe the most important question pending before this task force is how to provide the public with timely online access to the core documents of the United States Senate.

Currently, many crucial Senate documents are not available online. This information failure is exceedingly bad for democracy, because it provides great advantages to Washington lobbyists -- who have timely access to Congressional documents -- while effectively locking-out the vast majority of Americans from participating in the Congressional legislative process, who do not have timely access to these Senate documents.

We are asking you to break the information lock-out and promise the American people that the Senate will provide online access to Senate documents, including:

  1. Committee prints 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 or "chairman's mark" of a bill, which are the relevant documents for legislation. Senate 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. Do you support allowing the GPO to disseminate all versions of Senate bills electronically, including all committee prints and chairmans marks? Will you recommend that this be adopted as Senate policy as soon as possible?
 
  1. Verbatim transcripts (both corrected and uncorrected) from Senate Hearings. Lobbyists can buy transcripts of Senate hearings from transcribers, but most citizens have to wait months or more than a year for printed hearing records. Do you support providing online access to verbatim transcripts -- both corrected and uncorrected -- of Senate hearings?

  2.  
  3. Prepared testimonies to Senate committees. Do you agree that it should be Senate policy to ask persons testifying before Senate 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? Do you agree that all government officials should be required to provide electronic copies of their prepared testimonies for public dissemination? If so, will you recommend that this be adopted as Senate policy as soon as possible?

  4.  
  5. Voting records of Senators. While the votes on bills reaching the floor of the Senate 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. Do you support providing online access to voting records of Senators with and easily searchable database, indexed by member name, bill title, bill number, and bill subject?

  6.  
  7. Amendments. Do you support providing online access to the texts of Senate amendments? Do you support the policy that until a bill or amendment is online, it should not be considered "introduced?"

  8.  
  9. Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. In September 1994, CRS announced a pilot project for the electronic distribution of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs to Congressional offices. However, citizens are still without online access to these documents. Do you support providing citizens with online access to CRS Reports and Issue Briefs?

  10.  
  11. 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, Senate committee reports before the 104th Congress are not available online through GPO Access or any other government online service. Do you support providing online access to all Senate committee reports, including those not officially "reported"?

  12.  
  1. 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. Do you support providing online access to conference reports before the 103rd Congress?

  2.  
  3. 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. On February 14, 1996, the FEC inaugurated an Internet "World Wide Web page" with campaign contribution data for the 104th Congress. Though the FEC's web page is certainly an improvement, it is far from "user-friendly." Users of campaign contribution data must download large data files, and may have to set up relational databases. Do you support requiring the FEC to provide online access to campaign contribution data searchable by contributor, PAC, and campaign committee? The FEC web page does not provide access to much important FEC data, including FEC reports before the 104th Congress, and all campaign expenditure reports. Do you support requiring that the FEC provide online access to these important materials as well?

  4.  
  5. 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 Senate Office of Public Records and the House Legislative Resource Center. Do you agree that this information should be made available online? Kelley Johnston, Secretary of the Senate, testified on February 28, 1996 that "one other technological innovation, which is very important to serving the public, is to offer...electronic retrieval of the [lobbyist] registration and report data on file." Will you encourage the Secretary of the Senate to provide online access to this important data as soon as possible?

  6.  
  7. Senate Financial Disclosure reports. Do you support providing online access to Senate financial disclosure reports?

  8.  
  9. Secretary of the Senate reports. Do you support providing online access to Secretary of the Senate Reports?

  10.  
We hope that "Operation Daylight" will include a thorough and speedy effort to provide citizens with online access to these crucial Senate documents. If you have any questions about this letter, or wish to discuss any of our questions, please contact Gary Ruskin at (202) 296-2787, James Love at (202) 387-8030, or Lori Fena at (415) 436-9333.
 
 

Sincerely,

Gary Ruskin, Director, Congressional Accountability Project
Lori Fena, Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
James Love, Director, Consumer Project on Technology