Groups want CRS reports on Internet

A Washington-based advocacy group this month urged Congress to give the go-ahead for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make its reports electronically available to the public via the Internet.

In a letter sent to Rep. William Thomas (R-Calif.) chairman of the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and Sen. John Warner (R-Va.) chairman of the Rules Committee the Congressional Accountability Project noted that it is unfair for citizens to wait for weeks or even months to get reports from their members of Congress.

The letter which was signed by 650 other groups stated "This barrier to obtaining CRS products serves no useful purpose and harms citizens' ability to participate in the congressional legislative process."

Hugh Elsbree CRS' associate director for policy compliance said "Every year in our appropriations act there's a provision which states that we cannot publish any of our materials without the approval and consent of our oversight committee. It's an argument that's been discussed for many many years and our position is that if Congress wishes to change it that's a congressional decision. But it's not really our decision."

Among the organizations supporting the move are the Consumer Project on Technology the American Conservative Union the National Association of Manufacturers the National Taxpayers Union and the Society of Professional Journalists.

The CRS which is part of the Library of Congress issues reports covering a wide range of subjects including economic and environmental policy foreign affairs agriculture religion science technology weaponry and current events.

"It's some of the best research that the taxpayers pay for " said Gary Ruskin director of the Congressional Accountability Project. "If the CRS reports were on the Internet it would be a tremendous service to the public. Why? Because most of these reports are briefings on a wide variety of pressing issues that would better enable citizens to participate in the congressional legislative process."

Ruskin said the issue is one of freedom of information and he hopes Congress will allow the reports to appear either on the Government Printing Office's Access World Wide Web site or the Library of Congress' THOMAS site.James Love director of the nonprofit Consumer Project on Technology said publishing CRS reports on the Internet can help reduce the influence of lobbyists.

"What the Internet promises is that ordinary citizens who cannot afford a lobbyist can be empowered to influence Congress and that's what this issue is about - information and power " Love said.

A task force to address the matter was established in July but has not discussed the topic. A Senate committee staff member said the task force has not taken any action so far. A spokesperson for Thomas declined to comment.

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