Re: WATPA: FW: Privatizing Congressional Hearings (Slate)

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From: DDeBar (
Date: Mon Jun 26 2000 - 22:28:50 EDT

Norm -
Are you backing Nader? (Hope so!!!)
Will Andy? Or is he too "party", despite the failings of Bore (or is it

> From: Norman J. Jacknis <>
> To: ''
> Subject: WATPA: FW: Privatizing Congressional Hearings (Slate)
> Date: Monday, June 26, 2000 9:55 PM
> As an organization with Public Access in its name, I thought you might be
interested in this article. There are an increasing number of instances in
which private companies are planning to act as intermediaties -- for a
price -- between the public and its information.
> Regards,
> Norm
> ----------------------------------------------------------------
> Privatizing Congressional Hearings
> Timothy Noah
> Gary Ruskin, director of the Ralph Nader-affiliated Congressional
Accountability Project [], a
public-interest watchdog group, was incensed by a May 21 article
> []
> in the Washington Post spotlighting a new for-profit Web site called [].,
which debuts June 12, will provide instantaneous access (via streaming text
and audio) of all congressional hearings and whatever "markups" are
conducted in public.
> (A markup is a session in which a congressional committee amends, and
then passes, or fails to pass, a particular bill. Once marked up, the bill
proceeds either to another committee or to the House or Senate floor.)
> The cost for this real-time service will be $1,000 per hearing; this will
be discounted to $150 per hearing for bulk users. (If you're willing to
wait a few hours, you can get the transcript, with audio links, for $500,
and if you're willing to wait till the next day, you can get it for $250.
These costs, too, will be discounted for bulk users.)
> The excellent question Ruskin poses about all this is: Why should
citizens have to fork over big bucks to find out what their government is
up to? "Congressional hearings are public information," Ruskin wrote in a
protest mass e-mail sent out yesterday. "We taxpayers paid for these
hearings. We ought to be able to read them, on the Internet, for free."
> Ruskin has been complaining for some time about the sizable gaps in
publicly available, Web-accessible information about Congress. In a Nov. 30
Los Angeles Times op-ed, Ruskin and Nader wrote that Congress's much-touted
"Thomas" Web page [] does not include "a searchable
database of congressional votes, indexed by bill name, bill subject, bill
title, member name, etc." Nor can one access, in most cases, working texts
of bills before they are voted on in committee or on the House or Senate
> (To read Eve Gerber's pithy "Net Election" column on the Web's slim
congressional pickings, click here
> [].)
> looks like it's going to be a fabulous product, well
worth the cost to lobbyists (who today actually hire people just to hold
their places in line to attend public hearings) and news organizations that
buy it. But that's not really the point. The point is: Why is this
information for sale?
> chairman Philip Angell answers that the information is
already for sale. Federal News Service [] and the
Federal Document Clearing House
> [],
> a transcript wholesaler, sell texts of congressional hearings, though
they can't provide these instantaneously.
> has paid to wire all the House hearing rooms for audio
(the Senate ones were already wired) so it can transmit congressional
testimony in real time. "We are making the proceedings available much
faster in many ways than the committees themselves do," Angell says. But
that, of course, is the point.
> Congressional committees ought to get this information out to ordinary
citizens as quickly as it's going to be available to wealthy lobbyists and
news outlets. Right now, they don't even make it a priority to get the
information out to other branches of the government. Among those Angell
sees as likely clients are people who work for state governments, and even
various agencies of the federal government, who are inconvenienced as much
as anyone else by the need to attend

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