Plan for Publishing CRS Reports Falls Short

In March, new legislation from Congress required the Library of Congress publish all non-confidential Congressional Research Service reports online by September 19th of this year. That deadline is rapidly approaching and while congressional and civil society concerns about the library’s implementation plan remain unaddressed, the Librarian of Congress, Dr. Hayden, declined a direct request from Rep. Lofgren for the Librarian to meet with civil society about improving the website.

Reps. Quigley and Lance highlighted significant problems with the Library’s plan to publish the reports in a July 24th letter to Dr. Hayden. Their chief concerns are that it lacks provisions for a comprehensive, timely, and user-friendly publishing process.

They highlighted that all reports are supposed to be published by the September deadline, but the Library says it will only publish a handful by that time. This delay could be caused by manual posting of the reports, instead of using an automated means, which suggests that the Library should reconsider their process.

Additionally, the Library plans to post reports only in PDF format, not in HTML format. Publication in both formats would add significant value: it would be easier for the reports to be read by people with visual disabilities, to be read on small devices, and would facilitate republication of the information.

The letter also highlights the fact that the Library should enhance the website’s search capabilities and create permanent, intuitive links for the site.

These recommendations mirror those made by Demand Progress and the R Street Institute, which publish, a comprehensive, free website that has published approximately 14,500 CRS reports.

The public deserves a comprehensive and navigable repository for these taxpayer-funded reports, but the current plan likely will not deliver. The Library should use the expertise of interested stakeholders to make the project as efficient and effective as possible. For example, Reps. Quigley and Lance recommend the Library consult with the General Services Administration’s 18F, which has expertise in IT projects and website building, as well as consult with the Government Publishing Office on bulk posting best practices.

— Written by Amelia Strauss and Daniel Schuman