The site — www.opencrs.com — links more than a half-dozen existing collections of nearly 8,000 reports from the Congressional Research Service and centrally indexes them so visitors can find reports containing specific terms or phrases.
It also encourages visitors to ask their lawmakers to send them any reports not yet publicly available — and gives detailed instructions to do this — so these can be added to the collection. None of the reports is classified or otherwise restricted.
The site, being announced Monday, is operated by the Center for Democracy and Technology, a Washington-based civil liberties group. The project is a response to years of rumbling and wrangling by open-government advocates over a lack of direct accessibility to reports from the policy research arm of Congress.
"This initiative ought to embarrass the Congress into changing its policy and making these documents universally available," said Steven Aftergood, director of the project on government secrecy for the Washington-based Federation of American Scientists. Aftergood has collected hundreds of CRS reports and distributes them from his group's own Web site.
The research service, with a staff of more than 700 and a nearly $100 million budget, does not object to public distribution of its reports, said Jill Brett, a spokeswoman for the Library of Congress, the service's parent organization.
"It's up to Congress when they're made public and how they're made public," Brett said. "The law says we only make them available to Congress."
Lawmakers often cite the reports during congressional debates, but the research is generally not available to the public. Congress does allow lawmakers to publish reports on their individual Web sites and send them to constituents who request them.
By Ted Bridis