February 17, 1999
We strongly urge you to co-sponsor the Congressional Openness Act (S. 393) to place important congressional documents on the Internet, including Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs, CRS Authorization and Appropriation products, lobbyist disclosure reports, and Senate gift disclosure reports.
The Congressional Openness Act recognizes that "it is often burdensome, difficult and time-consuming for citizens to obtain timely access to public records of the United States Congress," and would help provide taxpayers with easy access to the congressional research and documents that we pay for.
CRS products are some of the finest research prepared by the federal government, on a vast range of topics. But citizens cannot obtain most CRS products directly. At present, many CRS products are available on an internal congressional intranet only for use by Members of Congress and their staffs -- not the public. Barriers to obtaining CRS products serve no useful purpose, and damage citizens' ability to participate in the congressional legislative process. Citizens, scholars, journalists, librarians, businesses, and many others have long wanted access to CRS reports via the Internet.
In 1995, Congress passed the Lobbying Disclosure Act to require Washington lobbyists to disclose key information about their activities. Placing lobbyist disclosure reports on the Internet would help citizens to track patterns of influence in Congress, and to discover who is paying whom how much to lobby on what issues.
The Congressional Openness Act contains a sense of the Senate resolution that Senate and Joint Committees "should provide access via the Internet to publicly-available committee information, documents, and proceedings, including bills, reports, and transcripts of committee meetings that are open to the public." Congress owes this to the American people.
In 1822, James Madison aptly described why the public must have reliable information about Congress: "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives."
The Congressional Openness Act falls squarely within the spirit of Madison's honorable words. We urge you to support the efforts of Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in making congressional documents available on the Internet.
American Association of Law Libraries
American Conservative Union
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Center for Science in the Public Interest
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)
Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics
League of Women Voters of the U.S.
National Association of Manufacturers
National Citizens Communications Lobby
National Newspaper Association
National Taxpayers Union
Project on Government Oversight
Radio-Television News Directors Association
Reform Party of the United States
Taxpayers for Common Sense
U.S. Public Interest Research Group (USPIRG)