This morning the New York Times editorialized in favor of public access to Congressional Research Service reports.
“Given the extreme partisanship and gridlock in Congress, it’s more crucial than ever to have an informed electorate. Putting these reports in the public domain is an important step toward that goal.”
Over the years our coalition has submitted testimony in favor of public access to these reports, most recently in March. In summary, the reports explain current legislative issues in language that everyone can understand, are written by a federal agencies that receives more than $100 million annually, and there is strong public demand for access. A detailed description of the issues at play is available here.
This congress, two legislative efforts are underway to make CRS reports public. First, the bipartisan H. Res. 34, introduced by Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NY) and Mike Quigley (D-IL), would make all reports widely distributed in Congress available to the public, except confidential memoranda and advice provided by CRS at the request of a member. Second, Rep. Quigley offered an amendment to an appropriations bill that would have required CRS to make available an index of all of its reports. Similar legislation has been introduced in the Senate in prior years.
The issue of public access can be resolved by either chamber of Congress passing a simple resolution. Indeed, a single member of Congress has the right to publish as many reports as desired on his or her website. Legislative branch appropriators in either chamber or the Committee on House Administration or Senate Rules Committee all have jurisdiction and could move swiftly to release the reports to the public. At a minimum, a hearing would shed light on the underlying issues. (In 2011, I hosted a panel discussion on the future of CRS that discusses public access.)
For two decades, members of Congress have tried to make these reports available to the public on a systematic basis. It’s time to finally make it happen.