A bipartisan resolution was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives today to make Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports available to the public through the internet. The Center for Media and Democracy has signed-on in support of this legislation as a means to increase governmental transparency and promote a better-informed populace.
"As the public debate has become increasingly partisan and polarized, it is more important than ever for citizens to have full access to the same neutral, unbiased information that many of us [Congressmen] rely on to help us formulate important decisions," said Republican Rep. Leonard Lance (NJ) and Democratic Rep. Mike Quigley (IL), in a letter asking colleagues to support the legislation. "By providing public access to CRS reports, we can elevate our national discourse and make it easier for citizens to cut through the misinformation that too often pollutes the national debate."
Public Access to Reports Will 'Elevate our National Discourse'
The CRS, which has been referred to as "Congress' Think Tank," is staffed by lawyers, scientists, economists, and experts in other fields, and provides in-depth research reports on a variety of issues to members of Congress to assist them in decision-making. CRS reports investigate topics ranging from "Governmental Tracking of Cell Phones and Vehicles: The Confluence of Privacy, Technology, and Law," to "Unauthorized Aliens' Access to Federal Benefits: Policy and Issues," to "Veterans and Homelessness," to "Islam: Sunnis and Shiites," and a variety of other topics commissioned by Congress.
CRS reports are considered accurate, thorough, objective and non-partisan. A limited number of these documents have been publicly released at the discretion of members of Congress and their staff, but the reports are not directly provided to the public and many remain unavailable.
The "Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2012" from Reps. Lance and Quigley would make a variety of CRS reports available on a public website. Individual research requests by Congressional members or committees will still remain private, unless the office making the request decides to release the information.
According to the World e-Parliament Report 2010, 47% of parliaments worldwide make research and analyses provided to legislators public on the parliament or library website.
Decades Long Bipartisan Push to Make Documents Accessible
For over a decade, a group of bipartisan Congressional members, as well as open-government organizations, have advocated for making CRS reports publicly available. The first substantial push was made in 1998, when Arizona Republican Senator John McCain introduced a bill asking that the reports be made public, arguing this action would serve as a "sunshine law" and allow taxpayer access to in-depth information and analysis for which they are paying the bill. Some of the organizations which have pushed for disclosure include the Federation of American Scientists, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Library Association, Center for Responsive Politics, Common Cause, Public Citizen, National Security Archive, OMB Watch, POGO, and Taxpayers for Common Sense, and others.
In February 2009, the whistle-blower website WikiLeaks made available 6,780 CRS reports dating back to 1990. A Wikileaks representative at the time noted that legislators, in most cases, only made available reports that furthered their political agenda.
The resolution introduced today will only need to pass the House to be implemented.