Taxpayers Should Have Access to Projects They Fund
Citizens Deserve to See Government Documents
In many cases, taxpayers pay for something that the federal government does, and then the government tries to keep the results away from the taxpayers. In some cases, such as with government databases or government lands, politicians actually make deals with private companies where the private companies receive monopolies over those taxpayer-funded resources. Here is a news announcement on this subject.
U.S. Senators John McCain (R-AZ) and Pat Leahy (D-VT) introduced a Senate resolution yesterday to place important congressional documents on the Internet, including Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports and Issue Briefs, CRS Authorization and Appropriations products, lobbyist disclosure reports and Senate gift disclosure reports. The resolution (S. Res. 21) is co-sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R-MS) and Senator Joe Lieberman (D-CT).
CRS reports are among the best taxpayer-funded research done by the federal government. The McCain-Leahy resolution would put about 2700 CRS reports on the Internet. In an notable affront to citizens and taxpayers, these reports are already available to Members of Congress and their staff on an internal congressional intranet -- which is closed to the public -- even though the taxpayers will spend $73.4 million to fund CRS operations during fiscal year 2001. To read abstracts of CRS reports, see the Pennyhill Press website http://www.pennyhill.com which sells the taxpayer-funded reports back to the taxpaying public for $49 for up to five reports!
The House of Representatives recently initiated a pilot project to place some CRS reports on the Internet. Several hundred CRS reports are now available on the website of Representative Chris Shays (R-CT), at http://www.house.gov/shays/CRS/CRSProducts.htm
The resolution would put lobbyist disclosure reports on the Internet, which could help citizens to track patterns of influence in Congress, and to discover who is paying whom how much to lobby on what issues. In another affront to citizens and taxpayers, these reports are computerized, but are made available to the public on Capitol Hill, not on the Internet.
"Citizens need easy access to these documents to discharge their civic duties," said Gary Ruskin, director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "Taxpayers deserve ready access to the documents they pay to create."
The resolution is endorsed by the Alliance for Democracy, American Association of Law Libraries, American Library Association, American Federation of Government Employees and many other citizen organizations.
Congress has yet to put its most important documents on the Internet, including:
- A searchable database of congressional voting records, indexed by bill name, subject, title, Member name, etc.;
- Key texts of bills (especially committee prints, discussion drafts, chairman's marks and manager's marks);
- All Congressional Research Service reports and products;
- Draft committee and conference reports;
- Lobbying disclosure reports;
- Committee and subcommittee mark-up transcripts;
- All congressional hearing transcripts and written testimonies; and,
- Congressional expenditure reports, such as the Statements of Disbursements of the House and the Secretary of the Senate reports.
"Congress has been shamefully slow to put its most important documents on the Internet," Ruskin said. "The McCain-Leahy resolution is a good step towards placing the work product of Congress on the Internet."
In 1822, James Madison explained why citizens must have government information: "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 measure 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."
For more information about the failure of Congress to put its documents on the Internet, see the Congressional Accountability Project's website at http://www.congressproject.org
The Congressional Accountability Project opposes corruption in the U.S. Congress.
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