New Civil Society Website Makes Available to the American People Reports Previously Available to Congressional Staff and DC Insiders
Contact: Daniel Schuman, Demand Progress
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC — October 19, 2016 — More than 8,200 reports authored by the Congressional Research Service, Congress’ think-tank, were published online today at EveryCRSReport.com by Demand Progress, a progressive grassroots organization with 2 million members that works to build a modern democracy. CRS reports contain non-partisan, in-depth analysis of important issues before Congress, ranging from telecommunications to privacy to social security and more, and are written to help members of Congress understand the policy choices they must make.
Daniel Schuman, policy director at Demand Progress, and former legislative attorney with CRS, said:
“For more than 20 years, the public has clamored for Congress to systematically release CRS reports to the public. Instead, those with DC connections have received preferential access, leaving lone members of Congress to fill the gaps and address iniquities. Congress must do better, and this new website points the way forward.”
For the first time, all CRS reports currently available on Congress’ internal website have been made publicly available at once, with more to come. Previously, members of Congress had released the reports piecemeal to the public, although there have been legislative efforts over the last three decades to do so systematically. The most recent effort is the bipartisan bicameral Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016, introduced by Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL).
Rep. Mike Quigley, who sponsored legislation to release all non-confidential CRS reports to the public, said:
“Increasing transparency and accountability in government is not only the key to improving public trust, it is the key to improving the way government works. I applaud Demand Progress on their efforts to bring greater transparency to the exceptional, non-partisan research conducted by the Congressional Research Service. While I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create a Congressionally maintained database for non-confidential CRS products, this website is a great resource for our constituents to access these important reports. Information is the power the people need to trust their government and the work we do each and every day.”
Rep. Leonard Lance, who introduced the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act in the U.S. House, said:
“It is 2016, any student, reporter, taxpayer or interested citizen should be able to view CRS reports online. These reports for paid for by taxpayer funds, the taxpayers should be able to read them. It is past time to end the era of secrecy to these reports and open them to the benefit of research, reporting and public information. This online portal will become a resource for many and bolster the argument for transparency.”
Notable about this effort is:
- It is done in partnership with a Democratic and Republican member of Congress, who are programmatically providing the reports to us.
- All reports published on CRS’ website are included — more than 8,200 — which previously were directly available only to the 20,000 staff on Capitol Hill.
- The reports are viewable on mobile devices as well as online, unlike CRS’s own website, and can be downloaded individually and in bulk by anyone.
- The phone number, email address, and names of the analysis are redacted from virtually all the reports, and a “no copyright” statement is added, addressing concerns raised by CRS.
- When a report is updated, we tell users the percentage of the report that has changed.
- The code for the website is available online on GitHub for free.
Calls for Congress to release the reports to the public have been endorsed by former CRS employees with a combined 500 years of experience as well as a broad bipartisan coalition of civic organizations, non-profits, think tanks, grassroots organizations, libraries, and others.
Julie Todaro, president, American Library Association, said:
“Today, Demand Progress has enabled researchers and entrepreneurs everywhere to benefit from the kind of information that drives innovation. Now it’s time for Congress to permanently guarantee this access by law, and to itself create an online portal to such vital, taxpayer-funded information for all.”
Kevin Kosar, senior fellow and governance project director, R Street Institute, a libertarian think tank, and a former research manager and analyst at the Congressional Research Service, said:
“Congress long ago could have fixed this inequitable and anachronistic situation with ease and little to no cost. But it dithered for years, so the private sector stepped forward and got the job done in a blink.”
CRS reports do not contain classified information or individualized advice for members of Congress. They are written in plain language for general consumption and it is anticipated they may become publicly available. On occasion, House and Senate committees have officially published the reports, and it has long been Senate policy to encourage members and committees to release the reports to the public.
Former Representative Chris Shays (R-CT), who pushed for public access to the reports in the 1990s and published them on his congressional website, said:
“CRS reports are thoughtful, well researched, well written and well organized. My staff and I depended on these reports on nearly a daily basis. It is truly terrific that 8,000+ CRS reports will now be available to the public by visiting the website EveryCRSReport.com.”
The website was built by Dr. Josh Tauberer who founded GovTrack.us, a website that makes available federal legislative information to the American people.
EveryCRSReport.com is a project of Demand Progress, a progressive organization that coordinates the Congressional Data Coalition alongside the libertarian R Street Institute.The coalition champions greater governmental transparency through improved public access to and long-term preservation of congressional information.
With a new Librarian of Congress, and the start of a new Congress in January, the time is ripe for Congress to systematically make the reports available to the public. Until then, we will do so at EveryCRSReport.com.