Seeking more transparency, senators turn to Web

An ethics reform bill may make it easier for citizens to watch Congress from their laptop computers.

Senators considering reforms for more accountability and transparency are advocating use of the Web as a means of opening their work to the public.

Numerous amendments to the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act (S. 1) insist on putting more details of Senate proceedings, such as committee hearings and the text of legislation before senators vote on it, on the Internet.

An amendment from Sen. Ken Salazar (D-Colo.), for example, would mandate opening Senate meetings to the public via the Internet.

“The amendment simply requires that each Senate committee and subcommittee make available on the Internet either a video recording, an audio recording or a transcript of every meeting that is open and that those documents be made public within 14 days of the meeting’s adjournment, unless a majority of the committee members decide otherwise,” Salazar said.

The Senate agreed to the amendment.

Many Senate committees already broadcast their hearings via the Internet and post transcripts of written testimony afterward, but the amendment seeks to make that a uniform requirement.

Several senators have proposed amendments requiring that the text of legislation, resolutions and reports be posted on the Web at least three days before the Senate can begin debate on them. They can be posted on any domain Web site, the Government Printing Office’s domain or through the Library of Congress’ Thomas system on the domain.

“The more Congress does on behalf of the American people that is transparent and can be reported and can be considered by average Americans in how they determine and evaluate our performance here, the better, as far as I am concerned,” said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), who proposed one such amendment. His amendment is still under consideration.

Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) proposed building a searchable Web site where all official congressional travel is reported. The Senate is still considering it.

The ethics reform bill the Senate will take up again this week also tackles issues related to former senators lobbying their colleagues on the Senate floor and determining how much money lawmakers must pay for airplane tickets. The bill also bans gifts and travel offered by lobbyists.

“The American people aren’t interested in quick fixes, or window dressing or in a few public relations moves. They want bold changes,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who sponsored the bill.

The new Democratic-led Congress has pushed ethics reforms promised during last year’s campaigns. Some proposals involve transparency via the Web. Some senators have pushed to put campaign finance information online, and another bill would mandate a Web site listing the details of conference reports before senators could vote on them.


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