Rare Reports on the Web

If anyone other than a Member of Congress asked the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for copies of the reports the agency writes, the answer would be an emphatic "no." But a Washington-based science interest group called the Committee for the National Institute for the Environment somehow has managed to make more than 200 of the closely held CRS reports available on the Internet.

Access to CRS reports has been a bone of contention recently between on-line activists and members of the House Oversight Committee. While Congress has been making a concerted effort to put most of the documents it generates on the Internet, the CRS reports remain off-limits. Activists argue that electronic access to the reports is critical because the reports often serve as a basis for committee action.

CRS officials say that they won't put the reports on the Internet because the documents belong only to the Members who request them. The agency never releases its work to the public, a CRS spokeswoman said recently.

But the CRS reports on the committee's Web site are the real thing. So how'd the committee do it? "We asked lots of people on Capitol Hill to pass the reports along to us, and they do," Peter D. Saundry, the committee's executive director said.

Who, for example? "I'm not going to name any names," he responded, "but we have good relationships with many congressional offices."

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