Ralph Nader P.O. Box 19312, Washington, DC 20036 James Love Consumer Project on Technology P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036 http://www.cptech.org January 6, 2000 President William Clinton The White House 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. Washington, D.C. 20500 Dear Mr. President, We are writing to ask that you issue an Executive Order setting procedures for every agency of the federal government to place its contracts on the Internet. We believe this initiative will help fundamentally change the accountability of government agencies to the public, and greatly reduce the number of poorly conceived contractual agreements now issued by federal agencies. We are in an era when private firms spend public funds for a wide range of activities, and there are daily transfers of public property to the private sector for a variety of purposes and rationales. The development of the Internet has created a new opportunity to empower scholars and the interested public to review and evaluate this growing and profoundly important aspect of government and budget allocations. In referring to contracts, we are speaking broadly about a wide range of written agreements, including such items as leases for mineral rights from public lands, research grants, industry government cooperative agreements, joint ventures with industry for the development of energy efficient cars, contracts for prison services, contracts with the independent counsel, consulting contracts, agreements to dispose of nuclear wastes, concession agreements for national parks, contracts for logging on public lands, licenses to government owned patents on biotechnology inventions such as the so called terminator seed patent, licenses to use public spectrum for broadcasting and telecommunications services, agreements with firms that do security clearances for federal agencies, debt collection contracts with private collection agencies, bank bailouts, loans and loan guarantee agreements, and countless other agreements. At present there are wide disparities among federal agencies with respect to access to government contracts. To its credit, the US Department of Commerce has placed existing and proposed contracts with the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers (ICANN) on the Internet for public inspection and comment. However, most agencies make it difficult or impossible to obtain copies of government contracts. There is no public depository library that catalogs these documents for historical purposes. For example, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) enters into hundreds of agreements giving private firms and Universities exclusive rights to use patent and other rights from billions of dollars in federal research. The NIH refuses to disclose these contracts except under freedom of information Act (FOIA) requests, and even then only after long delays and typically with extensive redactions, including, for example, NIH's suppression of the amount of money or royalty rates private firms agree to pay in return for commercial rights worth millions or even billions of dollars. Mike Palmedo and Shawn McCarthy recently investigated the availability of government contracts to the public. They attempted to obtain 81 federal contracts that were listed in the Washington Post on May 10, 17 or 24, 1999, by contacting both the businesses and the government agencies that signed the contracts. We are attaching their notes. In no cases were they able to obtain copies of contracts from the businesses, and none of the federal agencies voluntarily provided copies of the contracts. The only mechanism available to Palmedo and McCarthy would have been to file requests under FOIA, a process that would be very time consuming, particularly when compared to making contracts directly available on the Internet, and in too many cases unsuccessful. In a period when your Administration is highlighting the brave new information age and the Internet and is focusing on ways that e-commerce can make transactions faster and more efficient, it is long overdue for you to harness this technology to make government accountability work in Internet time. After we receive your reply, we would like to meet with officials from your Administration to discuss this proposal further. Sincerely, Ralph Nader James Love cc: Palmedo and McCarthy notes on access to government contracts.