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66th IFLA Council and General

Jerusalem, Israel, 13-18 August


Code Number: 100-98(WS)-E
Division Number: 1
Professional Group: Library and Research Services for Parliaments: Research Seminar
Joint Meeting with: -
Meeting Number: 98
Simultaneous Interpretation: I.  No  

The role of the research services in the modernization of the Mexican Congress

Dulce Maria Liahut Baldomar
Sistema Integral de Informacion y Documentacion (SIID)
(Information and Documentation Integrated System)
Mexico - Chamber of Deputies
El Parque, Mexico


I. Introduction

In the context of Mexico's democratization process, its Congress is being practically recreated as it struggles to become fully institutionalized. The electoral results of the federal elections held in July of 1997 constituted an unprecedented event for Mexico's parliamentary history. For the first time, no political party occupied an absolute majority of the seats within the Chamber of Deputies. This new political scenery, in which the opposition parties, by gathering together in an informal coalition, attained an absolute majority of votes, presented several challenges, responsibilities and opportunities, which in turn, gave rise to a modernization process within the Chamber.

During most of the past century, Mexico's Congress was subordinated to the Executive's will. Since Mexico's President has been, in fact, also the leader of the majority party in control of Mexico's Congress, he has had the last word when it comes to nominations to political positions, the course of legislative practice and the destiny of congressional institutions. This situation guaranteed that almost all presidential bills were approved without amendments by Congress, so almost no information service was needed to support their legislative decisions making.

We now have a new plurality within the Chamber, where five national political parties are represented. The opposition parties promoted an interaction of dialogue, negotiation and cooperation that generated the political agreements required to strengthen the legislative branch. Furthermore, this new correlation of forces questioned the efficiency and adequacy of the parliamentary rules, practices and services that had prevailed during the long history, in which only one political force held control of the legislative assembly, all the time demonstrating the urgency of their reform.

The obsolete regulatory framework drove this legislature to adopt several political agreements regarding the management within the Chamber which, after having been approved by the Assembly, became the underlying support of the Parliamentary law procedure. It was evident that the Chamber's regulatory framework had become totally inadequate for the political pluralism present in the legislative body. All parliamentary groups then agreed that it needed to be reformed and after two years a new Organic Law was approved.

II. Background of the legislative information and research services.

The Mexican Congress has had a library since the Nineteenth Century. The library played an important role in supporting the legislative process during second half of that century and for the first 30 years of the Twentieth Century; this was the period of consolidating our Constitutional System, before the main political party that has dominated the political system appeared, and before the current transition to a new composition of the political power.

In 1936, the Mexican Library of Congress became a public library by an agreement of the plenary session of the XXXVI Legislature. Its principal intention was to diffuse the general culture among the citizens, but nobody insisted on preserving a legislative information service.

During the 1980's there were various attempts to create a legislative information system, including an incipient kind of research; but these efforts were systematically frustrated by the end of each legislature (in Mexico the legislature lasts 3 years).

In 1991, when a more equilibrated political composition developed within the Chamber of Deputies, the LV Legislature adopted a new agreement to create the Information and Documentation Integrated System (SIID), which has assumed the commitment to directly support the legislative activities by providing impartial, relevant and timely information to Members. A research and analysis service was considered in the project, which started functioning with 6 researchers. This project experienced some problems with regard to reaching its goals. The most important obstacles were the following:

A parliamentary career service program didn't exist within the chamber. This caused most of the qualified staff to be fired at the end of each legislature. This also happened to the researchers. Most of the staff of the chamber usually arrived with the politicians of the new legislature and left with them the same way. So we didn't have a permanent staff.

I have to say that the public library and the SIID were organically and administratively subordinated to the Deputies Library Committee, a situation that greatly affected our staff because hiring was based on political decisions.

The presence of an incipient democracy within the Congress, unfortunately, dulled the interest in strengthening an information and research service. As a consequence, the library did not have its own budget to buy foreign books and was unable to hire personnel, nor could it dictate the characteristics or the quality of its staff. Furthermore, the main way to enlarge the collections was mainly based on the "Mandatory Legal Deposit" from national editors that benefits the library since 1936, and by promoting bibliographic exchange programs.

In spite of these restraints, the SIID started automating the library activities, developing legislative databases, getting access to Internet, designing and preparing CD-ROM's about federal law and parliamentary debates. The SIID was responsible for the launching of the first computer network in the chamber and strongly promoted the use of internal and external databases. In 1996 it put the Chamber's Web Page online. This effort earned it a third place award from a governmental computing magazine for the best Mexican government web page. We also intensified the enrichment of the bibliographic and periodical collections and, in 1993, for the first time, the library was assigned a budget to buy foreign books and magazines. Unfortunately, in the next legislature this budget proposal was sidelined once more.

In the last 8 years of service the library, particularly SIID, has earned an unprecedented prestige. Coincidentally, more and more users have come to consult its resources. In 1991 attendance and use of the legislative information services amounted to 20 users a day. This number has been increased through the years, until 200 users come to our facilities every day, this number does not include the users that consult our services through Intranet and Internet. 53% of these are internal users, that is to say, Members and their staff, and 47% are users from the federal and state governments, universities and lawyers. Currently 600 computers are connected to the Intranet and are able to access our 14 internal databases, Internet, CD-ROMs, and other legislative sources of the Chamber. The public library assists 600 users a day in finding the books and magazines that they need and organize conferences, concerts and expositions. This library also provides special services to blind people.

An incipient research service has been provided by the SIID since 6 years ago. These services include preparing reports as analytical compilations on different subjects, but without a deep analysis. Documentalists take advantage of our bibliographic resources, internally developed databases and Internet access to prepare analytical compilations, comparative law reports, digests about the legislative process, and various other reports. This kind of research has been prepared by the regular staff of the Library in distinct sections. Each one of these is in charge of preparing the corresponding kind of information. For example: the Section of Legislative Documentation prepares reports about the status of the legislative process, bills, Members' legislative work, and news about legislation in general. The Section of Bibliographic Services prepares specialized bibliographies, book reviews, informative handouts, and the Section of Cataloguing and Classification prepares the bulletin of new acquisitions. Presently we have more than 150 report titles available.

III. The modernization project

One of the main goals since the beginning of this legislature has been the establishment of the permanent and optimum conditions needed for the legislative process to operate with the efficiency and security conductive to the integral modernization of the Chamber. Legislators from the opposition parties encouraged a modernization project designed to strengthen the Legislature so it could best accomplish its constitutional and legal functions of representation, surveillance, and lawmaking. This project included the creation and implementation of a technical and professional support group composed of a truly autonomous, impartial and professional administrative and parliamentary staff.

Based on this plan, the implementation of several modernization projects was achieved from the beginning of the 57th Legislature. These projects included:

  • The installation of a Legislative Television Channel whose objective is to divulge the legislative activities and discussions that take place in both chambers of Congress.
  • The technological updating of the Assembly Hall in order to allow greater functionality, efficiency, and order in the legislative work during the Chamber's sessions. A high-tech electronic system allowing access, registration, audio, information displays and voting was installed for this purpose.
  • The publication of a Parliamentary Gazette to diffuse and promote the legislative activities and actions is published every weekday and on those weekends in which sessions are held. (This Gazette contains such timely information as the daily agenda, commission calls, bills presented in both chambers, amended bills, proposals and projects for parliamentary agreements, as well as the budget and information on its expenditure, among other documents).
  • Considering the constitutional powers of the Chamber of Deputies in economic matters, an institutional non-partisan office for technical support in public finance was created. This Public Finance Studies Office is composed of professionals dedicated to the analysis, organization and management of information related with the country's public finances. All the members of this unit were recruited by means of an open competitive examination. Its objective is to assist the commissions of the Chamber, the parliamentary groups, and the deputies who so require it in economic topics, aiding them in the exercise of their duties in this field.
  • A qualifications and assessment center, as an aid to the establishment of a professional parliamentary career service, was created. Its functions include the diagnosis and detection of the Chamber's needs in order to program a redistribution of its staff, as well as permanently assessing the personnel's qualifications in view of the administrative changes, specialization and professional needs of the various areas of the Chamber, with the purpose of improving general productivity and efficiency.
  • The strengthening of the Library's research and analysis services in support of the legislative work, which will be explained forward.

IV. The New Organic Law

The modernization project could not be deemed complete unless the legal framework of Congress was thoroughly revised. A new organic law for the Congress was finally approved on August 31, 1999. This provides a number of changes in the political and administrative decision-making structures that operate in both chambers.

The Library services are now organically and administrative linked to the Secretary of Parliamentary Services. The current Deputies Chamber's Library Committee will disappear to give rise to a bicameral committee; this committee will have supervision and regulatory functions over both the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies libraries.

A more systematic and professional service has also been introduced for the chamber. This new structure will be made up of a body of professionals and technicians whose activity and permanence on the job will be regulated by the principles of the parliamentary professional service.

Finally, a last chapter was added to the Law, which regulates Congress' diffusion and information activities. The norms regarding the Legislative Television Channel, described above, as well as a system of libraries in charge of both Chambers are included here.

It also prescribes the creation of two new research centers: one for social studies and another one for legal and parliamentary studies. The commitment of these centers will be to make medium and long term research of a different nature than the research that the library is responsible for. These centers will not be operating until the next legislature, and will be functionally linked to the library.

V. The strengthening of the Library's research and analysis services in support of the legislative work.

For the first time, information and research services found a place in the Organic Law. So they were formally recognized as playing an important role in supporting the parliamentary activities. The new law prescribes that the library will have two branches: the public and the legislative ones. It establishes that the legislative branch should have three main types of services: 1) bibliographical services, 2) classification of legislative information, and 3) research and analysis services. This last one has three specialized areas of research based on great national topics, thematically congruent with Chamber's system of commissions. These areas include: domestic policy, social policy and, economy and commerce. The initial plan was to have each area attended by one high quality professional researcher and two research assistants. The services these areas provide include analysis briefs on each subject, specific analysis of bills, technical opinions on specific subjects, and legislative consultations. The members of this new research body were recruited in accordance with the policies of the parliamentary career service.

The research and analysis service is provided upon a request of a committee or by our own initiative, considering the most relevant issues that are being discussed at the Chamber. We use a request sheet that includes all the items we need to start the research, like the subject, objectives, type of information needed, names and institutions that need to be consulted, dates, etc.

We established an internal editorial committee to review the content and format of each report. This committee made various suggestions at first, that helped the researchers improve the presentation of the reports. Nowadays the editorial committee meets only when there are some doubts about a specific report.

Since last August, they have prepared 15 reports by their own initiative, and 12 attending to a specific request from different committees, some of which have influenced the legislative task in an important manner. Some of the requests have been complex, like interpretations of some regulations, analysis of some parliamentary facts. The most complex request that we have had has been to prepare the proposal of the statute for the parliamentary career service, and the ensuing consultations necessary for its approval. The Bill has recently received its final approval.

The researchers have been duly recognized by the Members and the administrative authorities, so much so, that one of them was named to a better position within the Secretary of Parliamentary Services.

The most sought after research division has been that of domestic policy, especially in regard to legal analysis. So we are thinking of expanding it and preserving the others in their present form. In the division of domestic policy we prepare comparative law reports, legislative background studies, analysis of parliamentary facts and bills, briefs of relevant issues, etc. Currently the researchers from this division participate in designing the training program for the entire parliamentary service staff.

VI. Conclusion

Without a doubt, change arose from the exogenous stimulation of Mexico's social and political context, but we can also readily detect voluntary acts in which political actors cooperated on the basis of common purposes and values. Representative institutions tend to frequently change or be reformed due to their intrinsic need to be highly adaptable in response to transformations in its constituency.

Autonomy, formality, uniformity and complexity are some of the elements that characterize a highly institutionalized legislature. The Chamber's autonomy in our case has been reflected by the fact that the majority of the bills submitted since 1997 to Congress have come from legislators and not from the Executive as before. Also, the opposition forces within the Chamber have expressed a will to exercise greater authority in the budgetary process. A new era in the relationship between the legislative and the executive branches of government has begun.

The rules and procedures are well developed and clearly specified, and the constitutional framework provides a relatively detailed foundation for information and research services. The features that an outstanding research and analysis service needs have been recognized as including the following:

  1. A high quality professional staff.
  2. Execution of tasks on an impartial basis
  3. Prompt and timely service
  4. Taking advantage of modern information technologies
The strengthening of the Chamber of Deputies throughout the modernization project which culminated in the legal reform of its Organic Law and the Career Service Statute is an important advance in Mexico's legislative strengthening process. However, there are still several pending issues in this process's agenda, such as the "immediate reelection" of legislators, the training of the existing staff, and the hiring of high quality new personnel under the requirements and procedures of the parliamentary career service.


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