For Immediate Release: For More Information Contact:

Wednesday, December 21, 1994 Gary Ruskin (202) 296-2787

Over 800 Citizens Send Letter Urging Ehlers and Gingrich to

Provide Free Online Access to Congressional Documents

A broad coalition of citizens sent a letter to Rep. Vern Ehlers (R-MI-3), the "point man" for the House Republican Transition Team's online efforts, in support of free online access to a wide variety of Congressional documents, including Congressional reports, Federal Election Commission campaign filings, and Congressional Research Service reports. The letter was signed by 803 people, including corporate executives, professors, librarians, engineers, journalists, teachers, and citizen leaders across the country.

Speaker-presumptive Newt Gingrich (R-GA-6) has repeatedly voiced support for expanding online access to Congressional documents, but the citizens coalition is concerned about the details of the plan.

"Many of the documents that Newt Gingrich and others are mentioning are already available to citizens, as a result of actions taken by the Democrats," said Gary Ruskin, Director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "We are asking Representatives Ehlers and Gingrich to truly expand access to government documents, by opening up new databases which are still largely inaccessible."

"By providing wider access to Congressional and other government documents, it will be easier for citizens to track our Congress, and help prevent government boondoggles, blunders, waste, and abuse," Ruskin said.

"Citizens should have ready access to the information that their own government produces," said James Love, Director of the Taxpayer Assets Project. "Members of Congress used our tax money to prepare these documents; we should be able to read them in our own homes, offices and libraries."

Since October, citizens have enjoyed free access to the full text of all House and Senate bills, the Congressional Record, Federal Register and many other items through the popular GPO Access program, but the future funding support for this problem is in jeopardy.

"Newt Gingrich has indicated that citizens will have the same access as beltway lobbyists to information before the Congress," Love said. "For this to happen, the Republicans will have to provide access to many databases which are still largely inaccessible, and to create mechanisms to engage the public in constantly redefining what the new information technologies can and should deliver."

"We are providing Newt Gingrich and Vern Ehlers with a road map to additional databases which are fundamental for citizen scrutiny and democratic discourse. This will be a reality check on what so far has been a very positive rhetorical commitment," Ruskin said.

The letter to Gingrich and Ehlers asks that Congress include such databases as:

* Congressional reports (including committee reports), hearing records (including verbatim transcriptions)

* Federal Election Commission campaign financial disclosure filings

* Congressional Research Service reports and issue briefs

* Texts of federal laws and regulations

* The full text of Federal Court decisions, complete with a public citation

* Congressional Budget Office reports

* Congressional news releases (including archives of all older releases)

In a November 11, 1994 speech to the Washington Research Group, Rep. 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 simultaneously, so that information is available to every citizen in the country at the same moment that it's available to the highest paid Washington lobbyist. That will change, over time, the entire flow of information, and the entire quality of knowledge in the country, and it will change the way people try to play games with the legislative process."

The Congressional Accountability Project is a congressional reform group founded by Ralph Nader. The Taxpayer Assets Project is a part of the Center for Study of Responsive Law, which was founded by Ralph Nader.