Opening Up the Congressional Research Service

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) turns out wonderful reports for members of Congress. I often direct students to these reports if they’re researching current or contentious issues.

Unfortunately, the CRS is not allowed by law to directly share these reports with the public. The members of Congress who request the reports are allowed to share them, and there are non-profits who persistently ask for these reports and then release them to the open Internet.

This is sort of an obscure topic, but one closely followed by academic librarians. Perhaps it will receive a little more attention now that the New York Times has published an op-ed – Congressional Research Belongs to the Public.

“Every day, the Congressional Research Service, a little-known government agency attached to the Library of Congress, churns out papers on issues as varied as the defense budget, the farm bill and nuclear weapons. They’re not classified. They’re nonpartisan. And unlike many government reports, they’re fairly easy to understand. Yet it’s hard for most people to get copies of reports produced by the Congressional Research Service, which operates as an in-house think-tank for lawmakers. That is absurd.”

In 2007 the then-director of CRS released a memo to staff supporting the status quo of not releasing the reports.

“What is the rationale for CRS providing its work solely to the Congress? Three broad concerns go to the heart of the existin policy; impairment of th eperformance of Members’ representational role, risk to confidentiality, and impact on the mission and congressional focus that characterizes our efforts. These issues also inform our policies on furnishing products to individuals outside Congress and our guidelines on staff interactions with the media.” (Read the whole memo here.)

You can see a collection of these reports at the Federation of American Scientists website.


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