We are pleased to announce that EveryCRSReport now includes all CRS reports published online by the Federation of American Scientists. Steven Aftergood, who led FAS’s efforts on CRS reports for decades, has retired from that role, although he still is active on a number of projects. He gave us permission to add those reports to our collection. Dr. Josh Tauberer, who runs govtrack.us and manages our website, incorporated the new reports this past week.
EveryCRSReport.com now include 19,798 CRS reports as of September 4, 2022, with the collection drawn largely from CRS’s intranet presence, plus 5,100 archived reports from the University of North Texas Libraries Government Documents Department CRS reports collection, and 100 or so reports from FAS. By comparison, the official CRS website contains 10,445 reports.
Why do we have about 9,000 more reports than CRS’s website? CRS only began publishing its reports online after it was directed to do so by Congress in 2018. Because many reports are released to the public through congressional offices, where they find their way online or into archives, we were able to take advantage of the hard work of entities to collect those reports, such as UNT and FAS. In addition, we were provided some CRS reports available on its intranet prior to 2018.
We should note that CRS released some reports directly to the public in the 1980s and 1990s through its monthly newsletter, the CRS Review, and by other methods. Some of its products were also published by Congressional committees and individual offices. Oftentimes, reports were obtained by private services that sell access to the reports. We don’t believe the public should pay twice for non-confidential reports about important policy matters.
In recent decades, CRS has declined to publish its non-current CRS reports despite the urging of the public and encouragement from Congress. This is rooted in a policy position, adopted by CRS in the mid-90s, where CRS opposes providing direct public access to the reports for a variety of reasons that do not stand up to scrutiny. The unarticulated root of the concern appears to be a fear that Congress will defund the agency if it is perceived to take a position on an issue. This is a real concern for CRS, but the resulting opposition to direct public access is misplaced.
Demand Progress and many other organizations have asked Congress to publish CRS’s “historical” or non-current reports alongside publication of recent reports. Those non-current reports are often still relevant to ongoing public debates. In addition, we have asked CRS to publish its more recent reports online in HTML in addition to PDF, which will make the reports readable on a wider variety of platforms and make the contents machine processable for easier discoverability and integration with other legislative data.
Now more than ever, it is essential for policymakers, the public, and the press to have access to reliable information about the work of Congress. We hope this is an incremental step towards that happening. Ultimately, the Library of Congress, which houses CRS, should be the authoritative, central repository for public access to all non-confidential CRS reports. We thank Steve and the FAS for allowing us to incorporate the reports they gathered over many years.