The bill includes provisions that would improve:
- public access to information about members of Congress
- public access to legislation, votes, and the work of congressional committees
- public access to the Congressional Research Service (CRS)
- lobbying disclosure
- transparency in federal contracting
- transparency in the executive branch
- public access to government responses to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests
This bill makes information particularly accessible because the public would be able to access the congressional records and information for free online. “With the amount of global information we can access instantly on a smartphone, the federal government should have no trouble making its work available online to the public,” said Representative Quigley in a press release.
POGO has been an enthusiastic advocate for giving the public access to CRS products, which can be an exceptional way for the public to learn about legislative processes and policies. In 2003, our report Congressional Research Service Products: Taxpayers Should Have Easy Access called for public access to CRS reports, as well as highlighted the unfair advantages given to lobbyists by the CRS: former Members of Congress, many of whom go on to become lobbyists, may request CRS materials directly, while numerous obstacles impede the American public from easily accessing the agency's work. That same year, Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-, then D-CT), John McCain (R-AZ), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), and Tom Harkin (D-IA) introduced a joint resolution to provide public access to CRS reports. In a blog post from a year ago, POGO “wholeheartedly” supported Sen. Lieberman’s recommendations for public access to the CRS that he sent in a letter to Senator Schumer, the chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, and was disappointed when the legislation, co-sponsored by McCain, never made it past the committee.
The CRS is part of Congress and creates articles like Reports to Congress, Issue Briefs, and Authorization and Appropriation Reports. The official CRS website is blocked from the public by a complicated firewall. CRS products used to be extremely hard to obtain by the public, but thanks to the organizations such as Open CRS and the Federation of American Scientists, which post CRS reports they obtain online, the public can now access some reports for free.
The CRS has given many arguments for its secrecy, but other congressional organizations, such as the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) have made their reports available without surrendering Constitutional protections or compromising their responsibilities to Congress. These congressional organizations even encourage public access and interest by having blogs, podcasts, and twitter feeds. It is imperative that the general public have easy access to CRS reports so that they can benefit from the excellent policy research done by the CRS.
-- Lauren Perry