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“The concern back then was the time it would take to print hundreds of thousands of copies, and the costs associated with distributing them,” he said. “The Internet solved that problem.”
Still, officials with the Congressional Research Service say that the argument against full access goes beyond how easy or inexpensive it might be to distribute the material. They said the CRS reports directly to Congress, not taxpayers, and that its only charge is to provide Members with the information they need to legislate.
“The Congressional Research Service works exclusively for Congress, as outlined in the statutory language establishing the service,” said spokeswoman Janine D’Addario. “It is up to individual Members and committees to make our products available to the public via the Web or other means, as they deem appropriate.”
Some Members are working to change that. Earlier this year Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) sent a letter to the Clerk of the House calling for “the development and adoption of new electronic data standards to help make legislative information more open.”
Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) have introduced a bill which would create a website where the public could search, sort and download all non-classified congressional reports. A companion bill is now in the Senate.
“Congress’ approval rating is historically low right now, and the only way to earn back public trust is through this kind of transparency,” said Quigley spokesman Ben Strauss. “Nobody really opposes this, it’s just a matter of pushing it through.”
Even Seager, who makes a living selling the reports, is open to the idea.
“From an ethical standpoint, yes, the reports should be available,” he said. “That wouldn’t be great for me personally, but this is a family business and I’m 72. Maybe it’s time to retire.”