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Groups Seek 'Net Access to Congressional Research

Public interest advocates are urging lawmakers to make Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports available to the public over the Internet. Taxpayers spend more than $100 million a year to fund the CRS, but its reports are rarely available to the public.

The CRS was created by Congress to provide lawmakers with non-partisan, objective analysis on legislative issues. The reports are not classified and the CRS maintains a fully searchable, password-protected Web site for members of Congress. To fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell some copies of the reports.

In a series of letters to key congressional members, a coalition of groups, including OpenTheGovernment.org and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), claim current CRS policies are blocking an "important source of government information."

"The CRS provides the best analysis of all sides of an issue," Patrice McDermott, director of OpenTheGovernment.org, told internetnews.com. "It's our Congress, our dollars."

CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz said in a statement, "The time has long since come to end this baseless, unfair policy. In the Internet age, it is unconscionable that these important, unclassified documents should remain out of reach for the great majority of Americans."

The CRS did return calls seeking comment on its policies.

For years, academics, public interest advocates, journalists and the public have urged Congress to make the reports available. The coalition claims demand has never been higher, pointing to the 3.5 million reports downloaded at OpenCRS.com, a site that offers for free CRS reports that have been obtained by various archivists and members of the public.

"Making the full catalog of these reports readily available over the Internet will sate those demands and help produce a better-informed electorate," the coalition said in letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Rules and Senate Rules and Administration Committees.

"It is unconscionable that taxpayers should be forced to pay twice for these reports, but that is the landscape that has been created by this outdated, misguided policy," the coalition's letter states.