The House and Senate’s Public — But Not Online — Documents

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Over the last month, Sunlight has examined the document collections of the Office of the House Clerk and Office of the Secretary of the Senate to find out what they have. There seems to be an even split between public documents that are available online and those which you have to visit their office to read – or are not publicly available at all. Here is our list of House and Senate documents, which contain summaries of what we found.

The Senate makes available a handy report listing all of their public documents, but you have to goto their public record’s office to obtain a copy. (We’ve uploaded the 2009 version.) The House doesn’t have an equivalent report, although they do make available a bookmark listing some of their resources. Both offices charge a per-page printing/copying fee ($0.10/page for the House and $0.20/page for the Senate). Neither office lets users make copies of their electronic files, whether in whole or in part, even though many files are available in electronic format on dedicated computers in their offices.

According to our count, the House Clerk’s office has 12 different kinds of documents: 6 are available online, 4 are available only at their office, and 2 are not available publicly at all. Likewise, the Senate Office of Public Records has 14 different kinds of documents; 3 are available online, 9 are available only in their offices, and 2 are not available publicly at all.

There are a number of interesting variations regarding how reports are filed and when they’re made available. Some of the information made available online can be downloaded in bulk, although much of it is only available piecemeal. Also, there are different reporting periods for different kinds of filings, even though many of the filings occur quarterly. Moreover, staff and Members of Congress may file some documents electronically while others must be submitted in paper.

Congress would be well served to permit Members and staff to file all reports online. Likewise, it would make sense to have all of the public reports made available online in a searchable and downloadable database. Finally, each office should release a list, updated annually, of the reports that they hold and how they can be obtained.

(Much thanks to Jessica Pearce and Miguel Villalobos for their research assistance.)

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  • Phil,

    I’m not sure the scope of your question — whether you mean making electronic copies of documents at their offices, or making the electronic copies available online.

    Regardless, in both Houses of Congress, the answer from the folks responsible for maintaining the documents was that they follow the rules set forth by their respective House, and those rules do not *require* that they allow people to make electronic copies.

  • What’s their stated rationale for the restrictions on copying electronic documents?