Bill Would Require Most Gov't Documents to Be Online

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A U.S. senator has introduced legislation that would require U.S. government agencies to post all public documents online in a free, searchable database.

Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat, said the Public Online Information Act is part of an effort to bringing accountability to the federal government.

"Montanans sent me to the Senate partly to help clean up Washington, and I'm doing just that," Tester said. "A little sunshine on government is always a good thing."

The bill, introduced Tuesday, is similar to a piece of legislation introduced by Representative Steve Israel, a New York Democrat, in March. Tester's bill would require all public documents, including government contracts, to be posted online within three years. Classified documents would be exempted.

The bill would also set up an independent advisory committee that would issue recommendations for all three branches of the U.S. government to make documents available online. The bill requires only executive branch agencies to put documents online, but that's where the majority of government documents reside, Tester said during a press conference.

The bill "will blaze a new path toward transparency and accountability," Tester said. "Some bureaucrats in Washington think they're being transparent when they load up millions of pages of paper into a box and ship them off to a warehouse somewhere. They may be public documents, but if you need them, you might have to go there and sift through them yourself or wait ages for copies of your own."

The cost of the bill would be minimal, Tester said. The bill applies to government documents going forward, not to old documents, he said.

Among the documents that would be required to be put online: details about executive agency travel paid for by outside parties; details of lobbying activity; and financial disclosures by government officials.

Tester was the first member of Congress to post his daily public schedule on his Web site, and he has banned all gifts, meals and travel from lobbyists to himself and his staff.

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