Hill must fully embrace the Net

When it comes to agencies developing information technology systems, Congress can be quick to offer helpful criticism. But when using IT or developing systems for the Hill, Congress frequently does not get it.

The latest case in point is the House of Representatives' effort to upgrade a system that tracks information on lobbying activity and congressional members' financial holdings, such as the amount of money representatives receive from speaking fees, earned income and stock ownership. The House inspector general, in a recently released report, suggests several system improvements, such as automating how information is filed to eliminate errors introduced when data is keyed into the system, and allowing candidates and lobbyists to file their financial reports via the Internet.

Makes sense.

But the IG mentions only in passing that the House should consider giving Americans online access to these public documents, suggesting that the House "allow for potential public access via the Internet." Currently, if the public wants to view these documents, they must travel to the Legislative Resource Center, based in one of the House office buildings.

The House has an opportunity here to continue what it started with THOMAS, the World Wide Web site that enables the public to access, with a few clicks of the mouse, legislation, bills, reports and other government documents. Shouldn't the same rules apply to these financial documents? Apparently not, according to the House IG.

The information in these documents certainly has the potential of being politically uncomfortable. But that is not the point. The House will look rather anarchic if it chooses not to make these documents accessible via the Internet, forcing those who want to view the information to make a trip to the Hill. The Internet affords government the opportunity to fulfill the true spirit of providing everyone with equal access to government information. Congress must embrace the Internet for disseminating all public documents, not just those that suit its political purposes.

The House has an obligation to join the rest of government and take full advantage of what the Internet has to offer—the ability to fully inform the electorate. If we are to move to a truly digital government, we must take the entire government with us, not bits and pieces.

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