Senators want CRS info online

Library of Congress Thomas Web site

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) today announced their plan to reintroduce legislation to make Congressional Research Service documents available to the public online.

CRS, a branch of the Library of Congress, produces policy briefs, reports and studies that are available on the CRS Web site and CRS' Legislative Information Service Web site. The sites presently are accessible only by members of Congress and legislative support agencies.

"Public records would actually become public," Leahy said.

Taxpayers contributed more than $81 million in fiscal 2002 to fund the CRS, but they don't have ready access to the reports. To obtain copies, a person must go through private companies and pay nearly $30 per report, McCain said.

The public "deserves the most prompt and easy access to that information," McCain said.

A version of the bill was introduced during the last Congress, but didn't make it to the floor. Leahy said the bill will be the same when it is reintroduced, but they "just needed to keep talking about it" to gain support.

The Project on Government Oversight (POGO) echoed the desire to make CRS products public in a report released this week. The report found that CRS blocks public access with an elaborate firewall, which redirects inquiries to the Library of Congress' public Thomas site (thomas.loc.gov).

The Thomas site, however, does not contain up-to-the-minute legislative information, floor and committee schedules and links to CRS reports and issue briefs, the report said.

The report said that CRS officials have argued that making the products available to the public could result in members of Congress losing protection against being sued for statements made on the House or Senate floors. CRS officials also have said that the service runs the risk of copyright infringement or high costs, but POGO discounts such concerns.

"Making certain types of CRS products and its Web sites widely available to the public would provide citizens with the type of high-quality information necessary to actively and knowledgeably participate in public debate about current issues," the project's report said.

Danielle Brian, the project's executive director, said there was an outdated belief that the public shouldn't access certain legislative records.

"Information is power, and it's inexcusable in the Internet Age for this valuable information to be inaccessible to the taxpayer," she said.

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