Agencies asked to post Web docs

At least two federal organizations chastised in a new report for failing to make information widely available to the public via the Internet say they are working toward placing the targeted material online.

The Washington, D.C.-based Center for Democracy and Technology last week unveiled its "10 Most Wanted Government Documents" list, which identified the 10 documents that people both inside and outside government say should be available on the Internet. The list will be used to draw attention to sought-after documents and information and to help persuade government agencies that they should put the material online as quickly as possible, said Ari Schwartz, a policy analyst at CDT.

The 1996 Electronic Freedom of Information Act requires the availability of federal documents online and in other forms convenient to the public and the press.

The U.S. Supreme Court was criticized for failing to have created a World Wide Web site, but the court is "currently exploring developing our own Web site," said court spokeswoman Kathy Arberg. She added that Justice Clarence Thomas testified before the House Appropriations Committee this year that the court is moving toward putting up a Web site. Arberg declined to comment further on the proposed Web site.

The Supreme Court's lack of a Web site surprised Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who along with Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), spoke at a news conference last week about the CDT report. "I find it astonishing that the Supreme Court of Mongolia has an official Web site, but the U.S. Supreme Court still does not," McCain said. "It is critical to make as much information as possible available to the public over the Internet."

Another entry on the top 10 list - the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's endangered species recovery plans - is also slated to go online this year, said Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Cindy Hoffman.

The Interior Department plans to have copies of all reports issued during the past five years on the agency Web site by year's end, she said. The department plans to add older recovery plans, which set policy for how the government can help bring endangered animals off the endangered species list, to the site. New plans will be placed on the site as they become available.

CDT assembled the list after soliciting responses from people inside and outside government about what federal information they want to be available via the Internet. They began the solicitations, using e-mail, about a month ago. Nearly 200 people responded to their call for entries.

Most pressing, Schwartz said, is the need for putting Congressional Research Service reports online for the public. The federally funded service produces reports on public policy issues ranging from foreign affairs to agriculture to health care. The reports are available online to congressional offices, but the public must order paper copies of the reports through their members of Congress.

In February, McCain and Leahy introduced the Congressional Openness Act, which would make the reports and other congressional information available. The bill remains in the Senate Rules and Administration committee.

Schwartz said the Congressional Research Service testified in February that it does not intend to put the information online because it would cause more people to request reports, thereby boosting the amount of money the service spends on paper and postage.

The Congressional Research Service did not respond to requests for comment on the study last week.

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10 Most Wanted Government Documents:

Organization/Documents

Congress/Congressional Research Service reports

Judiciary/Supreme Court Web site

State Department/State Department's daily briefing book

EPA/Pesticide safety database

Congress/Full text of congressional hearings

Justice Department/Court briefs

Congress/Congressional votes in searchable database

Interior Department/Endangered species recovery plans

Commerce Department/Official Gazette of Trademarks

Judiciary/Circuit court Web sites

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