On-ramps to Congress

Congress would do well to pass a measure widely endorsed by public interest groups that would give citizens greater access to some of the same information senators and representatives easily obtain.

Sens. John McCain (R) of Arizona and Patrick Leahy (D) of Vermont have teamed up to sponsor a Senate resolution that would put key documents on the Internet for public viewing. Among them, Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and disclosures about lobbying and gifts given lawmakers.

Currently, CRS reports are, at best, hard for the public to get, although readily available to members of Congress and their staffs - even though taxpayers will pay $73.4 million to fund CRS operations this year.

Concerning lobbying and gifts, the public would be able to keep better track of, and tabs on, those who wield legislative influence. Now, a citizen must trek to Capitol Hill to read many of these documents; on the Internet, they'll be much more widely available.

Congress also should move to put other important information on the Web, including a searchable database of voting records, the text of key bills, committee and subcommittee transcripts, and expenditure reports.

Since the technological means exists, Congress has a golden opportunity to encourage public participation in the democratic process. At the same time, it can show itself willing to be held accountable in ways it might not have thought of before.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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