Bipartisan, Bicameral Lawmakers Say Open CRS Reports
WASHINGTON, D.C. --- The effort to finally open non-confidential reports compiled by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to the public picked up new momentum today as U.S. House leaders Leonard Lance (R-NJ-07) and Mike Quigley (D-IL-05) joined U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) in introducing the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016. The legislation directs the Congressional Research Service to publish its reports on govinfo.gov – a site managed by the Government Printing Office (GPO) that will serve as a one-stop shop for public information.
Reports and other information compiled by the Congressional Research Service are not publically available. Since 1914, reports have only been available for request through House and Senate offices and the bipartisan and bicameral lawmakers say it is time to bring CRS into the 21st century.
“It is 2016, any student, reporter, taxpayer or interested citizen should be able to view these reports online. These reports for paid for by taxpayer funds, the taxpayers should be able to read them. It is past time to end the era of secrecy to these reports and open them to the benefit of research, reporting and public information,” said Congressman Lance, who is leading the House legislation.
“Opening CRS reports to the public would empower our constituents with vital information about the key issues, policies, and budgets we’re debating here in Congress, increasing government transparency and giving the public the tools they need to hold their government accountable,” said Congressman Quigley, Co-Chair of the Congressional Transparency Caucus. “It’s time to allow the American people to access the same neutral, unbiased, nonpartisan information that we in Congress rely on every day. I am proud to introduce the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act with Senators Leahy and McCain and Congressman Lance and I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle until non-confidential CRS reports are open to all.”
Senator Leahy, chief sponsor of the Senate bill, said:“Outside of Congress, for decades these reports have been ‘public’ only for insiders who can afford to pay a subscription fee. That’s not very ‘public’ and does nothing for the average citizen in Vermont or the rest of the country. Our bill will open up this invaluable, taxpayer-funded resource for use by all Americans and by schools and libraries. CRS was founded on principles of nonpartisanship and the belief that accurate, thoughtful information should inform the policy conversations of the day. It is a testament to the best ideals of Congress, and all Americans should benefit from the work and resources it provides.” Leahy has long led on right-to-know issues, such as the Freedom of Information Act, and he is a member of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress and the Senate Rules Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the new bill.
Senator McCain, chief Republican cosponsor of the Senate bill, said: “I’m proud to support this bipartisan, good-government bill to provide the American people with free access to the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) high-quality, unbiased and fact-based policy reports. By making these taxpayer-funded reports free and publicly available, Congress will be able to better serve their constituents, and voters will have access to an invaluable tool to make informed decisions on topics ranging from Obamacare and federal spending to tax reform and other important issues.”
Requesting CRS reports through House and Senate offices is often cited as a throwback to the era of patronage jobs and hard-copy reports being too long and expensive for CRS to be available to send through the mail. Good government and transparency groups and tax payer advocacy organizations support allowing these reports to be publically available and interjecting nonpartisan, factual information into public discourse. The lawmakers also want to end the “black market” of CRS reports by which connected individuals and lobbyists obtain reports from contacts on Capitol Hill but everyday Americans are not able to easily view these reports. The lawmakers determined that GPO has the experience and infrastructure in place to host government documents for use by the general public in a user friendly format that CRS does not.
Congressional Research Belongs to the Public (The New York Times)
Give public access to Congressional research reports (Lance and Quigley, The Hill)
The publicly funded reports you can’t read (Samuelsohn, Politico)
15 reasons CRS reports should be public (Kosar, R Street)
Trying to crack open Congress’s confidential think tank after a century of secrecy (Rein, Washington Post)