CRS Clamps Down on Public Distribution

In what is being characterized by subordinates as an act of “managerial dementia,” the Director of the Congressional Research Service this week prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval from senior agency officials.

“I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public,” wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mullohan in a memo to all CRS staff (pdf). “This policy is effective immediately.”

While CRS has long refused (with Congressional concurrence) to make its electronic database of reports available to the public online, it has still been possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency.

But now, “to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals,” Director Mullohan wrote.

The new policy demonstrates that “this is an organization in freefall,” according to one CRS analyst. “We are now indeed working for Captain Queeg.”

“We’re all sort of shaking,” another CRS staffer told Secrecy News. “I can’t do my work.”

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t talk to someone in another agency, another organization, or someone else outside of Congress and we share information,” the staffer said. “Now I can’t do that?”

A copy of the March 20 memorandum from Director Mullohan, entitled “Distribution of CRS Products to Non-Congressionals,” was obtained by Secrecy News.

It was also reported by Elizabeth Williamson in the Washington Post today.

None of the CRS personnel contacted by Secrecy News was able to explain exactly what prompted CRS Director Mulhollan to issue the policy memorandum this week.

While other parts of government strive to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to information sharing, the new CRS policy may be seen as an experiment in what happens when barriers to information sharing are arbitrarily increased. It probably won’t be good.

With some frequency, CRS analysts contact FAS with requests for information or documents. (A recent CRS report on Chinese naval modernization (pdf) reprinted a large excerpt of an analysis of Chinese submarine patrols by FAS analyst Hans Kristensen.) We haven’t been shy about requesting information or documents in return. And both sides seem to have benefitted.

“More important, Congress has benefitted,” a staffer said. But now such working relationships may be jeopardized.

0 thoughts on “CRS Clamps Down on Public Distribution

  1. Steve -

    No doubt you’ve posted on this before, but could elaborate on the applicability (or lack thereof) of the Freedom of Information Act to CRS reports?

    Thanks.

  2. John, the FOIA applies to “agencies” of the executive branch, and not to Congress. Normally, this is not too much of a problem, particularly since Congress is the most open of the three branches of government. But it means that FOIA cannot be used to access CRS reports. Rather than try to amend FOIA, however, what’s needed is for Congress to step up and finally adopt a sane policy on public access to non-confidential CRS reports.

  3. Thanks for the question. Spreading the news and writing to Congress are both useful things to do, especially since the change in CRS policy will have to come from Congress. But maybe we can do something more. Stay tuned, and we’ll see if a more focused effort can be organized in the coming weeks.

  4. Sorry, should have done a little research. The answer:

    CRS is headed by a Director, who is appointed by the Librarian of Congress with the consent of the Joint Committee on the Library. The current Director of the Congressional Research Service is Daniel P. Mulhollan. His Deputy Director is Angela M. Evans.

    I wasn’t able to find when Mulhollan was appointed, or who was the Librarian of Congress (and the members of the Joint Committee on the Library) at the time.

  5. He was appointed by Dr. Billington in 1997or 1998. GOP controlled the Congress at that time.

    [Actually, it seems that he was appointed in early 1994, prior to the GOP takeover, according to the Wall Street Journal --SA.]

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