Congressmen seek funds to put CRS reports online

Two congressmen today requested funding for an initiative to give the public online access to the highly sought-after reports generated by the public policy research arm of Congress.

In a hearing of the House Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) and Rep. David E. Price (D-N.C.) asked for $100,000 to support a bill introduced yesterday in the Senate and House that would require the Congressional Research Service to post its documents online.

CRS' reports assist lawmakers as they develop legislation on topics such as intellectual-property rights, security and intelligence and international relations. But private individuals and organizations do not have access to these documents, except through members of Congress and publishing firms.

According to supporters of the proposed Congressional Research Accessibility Act, many Hill staff members spend a fair amount of time requesting and mailing CRS publications. CRS estimates that Congress asks for 250,000 reports every year. The bill's proponents say this process, which can take weeks, presents an unnecessary hindrance to information that should be readily accessible.

"Government shouldn't be a mystery to the people who are fitting the bill, and as responsible stewards of the public interest, it is our duty to provide access in the most cost-effective way," Shays said.

However, CRS apparently questions the cost of the project, saying $100,000 covers only the technical resources and not staff. Rep. Charles H. Taylor (R-N.C.), chairman of the Legislative Appropriations Subcommittee, noted the "substantial conflict in cost" and said Congress would have to determine precisely how much the project would cost and then decide whether to fund it.

Similar legislation was proposed unsuccessfully last year.

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