38 groups (including KEI) ask Congress to make CRS reports public

Congressional Research Service reports are prepared in response to requests from members of congress. For decades, right to know groups have been asking that they be available online. The CRS describes itself as follows:

CRS employs about 450 policy analysts, attorneys and information professionals in a variety of disciplines working in one of five research divisions. The breadth and depth of this expertise – from law, economics and foreign affairs to defense and homeland security, public administration, education, health care, immigration, energy, environmental protection, science and technology – enables CRS to mobilize quickly, working together in flexible groups to provide integrated analyses of complex issues facing the Congress.

In a fast-paced, ever-changing environment, CRS provides Congress with the vital, analytical support it needs to address the most complex public policy issues facing the nation. Its work incorporates program and legislative expertise, quantitative methodologies, and legal and economic analysis.

The research divisions are:

  • American Law
  • Domestic Social Policy
  • Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade
  • Government and Finance
  • Resources, Science and Industry

The Knowledge Services Group provides research support services to the policy experts in each of the five divisions. In addition the Office of the Director, which includes the Communications Office, and five infrastructure offices oversee long-term goals and provide management and administrative support. Detailed descriptions of these offices appear in the Organizational Structure section of this site.

On February 25, 2011, 38 groups asked that the CRS reports be made public. The letter, which was organized by OpenTheGovernment.org, follows:

February 25, 2010

James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Dear Dr. Billington:

We the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability are writing to urge you to appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who will work with Congress to provide online free public access to the unclassified, non-confidential, taxpayer-funded reports produced by CRS.

The public needs access to these non-confidential CRS reports in order to discharge their civic duties. American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. But while the reports are non-classified, and play a critical role in our legislative process, they have never been made available in a consistent and official way to members of the public.

Predictably, to fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell copies of these reports at a price. This means that non-confidential CRS reports are readily available to lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people lack the information necessary to even request reports from their Members of Congress.

In 1822, James Madison explained why citizens must have government information: "A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." In the spirit of Madison, we ask you to appoint a Director of CRS who will help advance the goal of online free public access to CRS reports.

Representatives from the undersigned organizations would be happy to meet with you or your staff at any time to discuss this important issue. Please contact Amy Bennett, Program Associate, OpenTheGovernment.org (afuller@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736), at your convenience.

Sincerely,

AhEeCOSH
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
CAUS
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Defending Dissent Foundation
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Essential Information
Federation of American Scientists
Free Government Information
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
iSolon.org
Knowledge Ecology International
Liberty Coalition
MapLight.org
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Security Counselors
No More Guantanamos
OMB Watch
OpenTheGovernment.org
Point of Order
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Citizen
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
RS&S INTERNATIONAL, LLC
Society of Academic Law Library Directors
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Sunlight Foundation
University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center
Washington Coalition for Open Government