Today 40 Organizations Wrote to Congress
to Let Them Know
We live in the information age, but all information is not equal when it comes to policymaking. Our public debates are dominated by talking heads and special interests and heralded by news reports that are brief, superficial, and unrevealing.
We need better access to thoughtful
discussions of important issues.
This is why Demand Progress, the R Street Institute, and a bipartisan coalition of 40 organizations joined by 91 private citizens — many of whom are congressional or information access experts — today urge congress to make reports by the Congressional Research Service widely available to the public.
The Congressional Research Service provides nonpartisan policy research and analysis to congress. As part of its duties, CRS produces many research products, including 3,500 non-confidential reports annually. While many reports eventually become available to the general public, the process privileges some people over others. Often times only those with insider expertise know how or where to find the reports. Companies that collect the reports often charge high fees for access. And many people rely on superseded reports, unaware that CRS has issued an updated version.
Companies that collect the reports often charge high fees for access. And many people rely on superseded reports, unaware that CRS has issued an updated version. Access should not depend on insider knowledge or substantial financial resources.
Widespread access to CRS reports is a public good.
CRS reports inform the public about important issues congress may be considering. In part, that is why congress frequently publishes reports on congressional websites, in committee documents, and provides them in response to constituent requests. CRS reports play a role in public debate. For example, over the last decade CRS reports were cited in 190 federal court opinions and in 45 New York Times articles.
Wider, fairer dissemination would provide
even greater value for the $100 million
the American people spend annually to fund CRS.
In fact, comparable reports to congress prepared by other legislative agencies routinely are published online.
To be clear, not all CRS products should be available to the public. Members of congress must feel comfortable asking for advice. Consequently, research and analysis provided directly to an office at the request of a member or committee must be kept confidential unless the office decides to release it. By contrast, CRS reports are written with the near certain knowledge they eventually will become available to the general public.
It is time for Congress to make sure all non-confidential CRS reports are published online.
— Written by Daniel Schuman