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Common Ground: Joe Lieberman

This past week, I realize it was a mistake to call my Lenten blogging practice Common Ground Republicans because my perceived political allies and opponents don’t fit neatly into party boxes. For example, while I admire Congressman John Conyer’s efforts to provide accountability for former Bush Administration officials, he and I are polls apart on copyright. I think his current bill, the so-called Fair Copyright in Research Works Act is a special interest giveaway of the worst sort. I will do whatever I can with my colleagues in the open government community to halt passage of this bad legislation with an “apple pie” name.

But I digress. Because I realize that not all of my perceived foes are in one party, I am striking the word “Republican” from this Lenten series. It will simply be “Common Ground” until June.

Today’s Common Ground politician is Senator Joe Lieberman, the independent from Connecticutt. Senator Lieberman and I are polls apart on nearly every national/homeland security issue I can think of. Whether it was his idea of the creation of DHS which I thought was a bad idea from the start, his enthusiastic support for the invasion and occupation of Iraq or his support for warrentless surveillance.

Having said the above, the Senator and I have strong common ground on the subject of free public access to government information. He has been a strong and steady supporter of releasing Congressional Research Service reports to the public. He reiterated his support in a March 4, 2009 press release titled Lieberman Urges Better Public Access to CRS Reports.  This month he also turned his attention to providing better access to federal court documents currently locked in the PACER system. In a February 27, 2009 press release titled Lieberman Seeks Information on Federal Court Compliance with Transparency, Privacy Requirements he says:

The goal of this provision, as was clearly stated in the Committee report that accompanied the Senate version of the E-Government Act, was to increase free public access to these records. As the report stated: “[t]he Committee intends to encourage the Judicial Conference to move from a fee structure in which electronic docketing systems are supported primarily by user fees to a fee structure in which this information is freely available to the greatest extent possible. … Pursuant to existing law, users of PACER are charged fees that are higher than the marginal cost of disseminating the information.”

Seven years after the passage of the E-Government Act, it appears that little has been done to make these records freely available – with PACER charging a higher rate than 2002. Furthermore, the funds generated by these fees are still well higher than the cost of dissemination, as the Judiciary Information Technology Fund had a surplus of approximately $150 million in FY2006. Please explain whether the Judicial Conference is complying with Section 205(e) of the E-Government Act, how PACER fees are determined, and whether the Judicial Conference is only charging “to the extent necessary” for records using the PACER system.

Way to go, Senator Lieberman! Best of luck in your efforts. Please let the documents community know if there is anything we can do to help.

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2 Responses

  1. I am very pleased Joe is continuing his efforts to provide free and open access to government information!

  2. Me too. He’s really been a consistent advocate for the release of CRS reports, usually working with John McCain. And the stuff he’s currently doing about PACER could have been a blog entry on FGI!

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