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Confidential Congressional Research to be Made Public

by Countable | 7.28.17

Americans pay $100 million a year for Congress to do research, which can assist in the creation of bills and policies, and now, because of legislation in the Senate Appropriations Committee, Americans may get access to the research.

As described on their website, the Congressional Research Service (CRS), a legislative branch within the Library of Congress, "works exclusively for the United States Congress, providing policy and legal analysis to committees and Members of both the House and Senate, regardless of party affiliation." The website goes on to explain that “CRS is well-known for analysis that is authoritative, confidential, objective and nonpartisan.”

In a press release by Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the Vice Chairman of the Appropriations Committee, detailing his proposed legislation — the fiscal year 2018 Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill (FY18) — it requests that all non-confidential CRS reports be made "freely available to the public, schools and libraries across the country." Additionally, Leahy noted that “these reports are taxpayer funded and provide valuable information that should be made available to citizens.”

Reports in recent years have focused on Cuba, immigration, the Islamic State and the Affordable Care Act.

Known as Congress’s think tank, the CRS issues or updates over 3000 reports each year. These reports come from the CRS staff, which includes lawyers, economists, and social, natural and physical scientists. The CRS makes no legislative or policy recommendations— it strives to provide members of Congress with the best possible non-partisan information and analysis so they can make their own policy decisions.

Currently, CRS reports aren’t available to the taxpayers who funded them, but, according to Leahy’s website, "third-party for-profit companies often make them available to lobbyists for hefty subscription fees."

"A democracy depends on access to accurate information that informs a discussion of ideas. These reports are taxpayer funded and provide valuable information that should be made available to everyone--not exclusively to lobbyists and DC insiders."

There’s bipartisan, bicameral support for this measure. A proposal to release CRS reports to the public was included in the spending bill recently passed by the House. The legislation was introduced by Leonard Lance (R-NJ), who said:

"It is good public policy to allow educators, students, members of the news media and everyday citizens access to CRS' nonpartisan taxpayer-funded reports."

He continued with words that echoed across the aisle, and chambers:

"And it's time to put an end to the black market demand for these reports. Third-party companies like Amazon are selling these reports online, but the taxpayers already paid for the information. It's time we knock down the barriers to use it."

On the House side, making the CRS reports public would be paid for as part of the $16 million increase provided to the Library of Congress (for a total of $648 million).

Back in 2015, both lawmakers and members of the CRS voiced concerns about opening the reports to the public. At the time, Congressman Gregg Harper (R-MS) said that "you could argue both ways" about whether to release the reports. “You want to make sure [CRS] can speak openly and we can get the information we need. Now, do you want to release that to the public? That’s something that we’re still trying to work through."

The CRS also advised Congress that making their reports available to the public could have "potentially significant institutional and legal consequences for CRS and current congressional operations and practices."

According to rollcall.com, these concerns ranged from "from exposing CRS to legal liabilities to damaging the important relationship between the agency and its client base."

But the recent push to disseminate the CRS reports included a bipartisan group of 40 nonprofits and 25 former CRS employees.

Senator Leahy said he was glad to finally move the measure forward:

"I’m glad we’re one step closer to the high school student in Milton writing a paper, or the small business owner in Rutland concerned about health care, having access to the same information that I have when I vote on the Senate Floor."

Is it about time the CRS made its reports available to the public? Or were the concerns from 2015 valid?

Hit Take Action and let us know.

—Josh Herman

(Photo Credit: Wikimedia / Creative Commons)

Countable

Written by Countable

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(63)
  • Latricia
    07/28/2017
    ···

    Release the CRS reports to the tax paying public. I do not believe that third party companies should be able to make money off of research that my tax dollars paid for and yet I am denied access to that information. Our Members of Congress need a serious paradigm shift. You work for the American citizens not the corporations.

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  • Laura
    07/28/2017
    ···

    I absolutely agree CRS reports should be made public. Taxpayers paid for the research so we should see the results. Not being able to access them directly is like going to the doctor and having tests run only to be told you will have to purchase the results online. Nonsense. Now the question is how many of us will even bother to look at the research for ourselves in order to form our own opinions and how many will choose to continue to be spoon fed an imbalanced information diet by biased sources with ulterior motives. Congress definitely should make this wealth of information available but after that it is up to us to make use of it. It would be awesome if some clever civic-minded tech type could make an app for that so folks like me could easily get to it without banging our heads against the wall.

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  • Tracey
    07/28/2017
    ···

    The CRS reports should be released to the public. This would certainly add to transparency in government and it would allow the public access to information collected on our behalf and on our dime.

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  • Susan
    07/28/2017
    ···

    We pay for it we should get to see it.

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  • Thelma
    07/29/2017
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    It makes inherent sense that information gathered by the CRS, paid for with tax money, is released to the public. We should not have to pay twice for this data.

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  • Annie
    07/29/2017
    ···

    I support sharing the research through our Libraries and educational institutions.

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  • Claude
    07/29/2017
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    Vote yes for this bill. The public should have access to research that we pay for and is used to formulate polices. We should also have access to the information provided to Congress from corporate lobbyists

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  • Mark
    07/30/2017
    ···

    How much truth, and accuracy, would go into these documents? Would this lead me to be more trusting of our government? NO! In our world, this could very well turn out to be more money wasted.

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  • Keith
    07/30/2017
    ···

    Unless it's pertaining to the intelligence community, the words confidential and congress, as far as I'm concerned, should never be used in the same sentence. I expect transparency from my leaders, right down to their research. Their research is what leads to laws. It absolutely needs to be public knowledge.

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  • James
    07/29/2017
    ···

    All congressional res arch that is not deemed a national security risk should be public domain. The citizenry Pat's for it and it should be our right to see it as soon as it is completed. Please support such legislation.

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  • Cherilee
    07/29/2017
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    We pay for this so we should have public access

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  • Suzi
    07/29/2017
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    It's time for the CRS to make its reports available to the public, it will help us all make better decisions. The concerns from 2015 are not valid.

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  • Bill
    07/31/2017
    ···

    This is the first I've heard of CRS reports. I have a similar complaint with university research that has been paid for by the taxpayer. I frequently come across reports that I could use for my work but have to pay about $35 to access it. I agree that all non confidential research that's been paid for by the public, should be available to the public.

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  • Deirdre
    07/29/2017
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    Yes the reports need to be public. We pay for them so we should know what is in the reports

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  • NoHedges
    07/30/2017
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    I find it interesting that the release targets the same areas as the hard🐍🐍 right, especially Amazon. Hard right most definitely do not like a wealthy elite who not only refuses to accept the fueling of our economy at the expense of the American people. But Jeff Bezos became on of the richest men in the WORLD after an act of generousity that was entirely selfless. ⚡️There is more to this than meets the eye.

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  • Mary
    07/29/2017
    ···

    While this appears to be s good idea for colleges, researchers, etc, we need to be careful. What is the appropriate delay on releasing info? What will it mean for foreign countries to get everything? Will it cause the CRS to be less candid or fear retribution? Who is the primary user outside of Congress? How many individual taxpayers request it vs big business or education? Too many questions, not enough answers at this point.

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  • Michelle
    07/30/2017
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    Vote yes to make the CRS reports public.

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  • Christopherhall
    07/29/2017
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    Vote "yea" on Legislative Branch Appropriations Bill (FY18) so that non-confidential research can be made available to the public.

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  • Sietske
    07/31/2017
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    If our tax dollars pay for it we should have the right to see it!

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  • Shauna
    07/30/2017
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    I see no reason for this to be private. For transparency, allow research to be open to the public. One exception: any info that may harm our country's ability to protect ourselves from another country's trying to harm us.

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