Secrecy News

House Renews Ban on CRS Publication of Its Reports

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) will continue to be barred from releasing its reports to the public, the House Appropriations Committee said yesterday in its report on legislative branch appropriations for the coming year.

“The bill contains language which provides that no funds in the Congressional Research Service can be used to publish or prepare material to be issued by the Library of Congress unless approved by the appropriate committees,” the House report said.

Because Congress prohibits CRS from publishing its own reports, most CRS reports are only available to the public from non-governmental organizations that take the initiative to gather and publish them. Many such reports can be found in a collection that is maintained and regularly updated on the Federation of American Scientists website.

In the new spending bill, the House Committee ominously rejected a CRS request for a $5 million budget increase in 2016, and allocated $107 million, the same as the 2015 level.

“The Legislative Branch must set itself as an example for fiscal restraint while continuing to serve the Nation. This bill will require strict fiscal discipline on the part of all congressional offices and all agency heads in the Legislative Branch,” the report said.

But from another perspective, “this bill falls short in providing Congress with the resources needed to fulfill its constitutional duties,” said Reps. Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Nita M. Lowey in minority views. “The Legislative Branch bill provides another year of flat funding, the third in a row.”

In a move that is perhaps even more worrisome for CRS, “The Committee directs the Library of Congress to commission an independent survey of all Members and committees of the House of Representatives to ascertain their fundamental and optimal requirements for services and support from the Library of Congress and especially the Congressional Research Service.”

The problem here is that the CRS services that congressional offices are likely to find most “useful” are not necessarily those that are most “valuable.”

What is often deemed most useful is having CRS analysts assist congressional staff in responding to constituent mail, including eccentric or demented requests for information.

Why is the US Postal Service “stockpiling ammunition”? That sort of question helped lead CRS analyst Kevin Kosar to leave his job, he explained in an article in the Washington Monthly earlier this year (“Why I Quit the Congressional Research Service,” Jan/Feb 2015).

What is most valuable, by contrast, is not necessarily of immediate use to individual Members and Committees. That is the kind of in-depth policy analysis that can only be helpful to those whose policy preferences are not predetermined by ideology or affiliation. CRS reports are now cited ever more frequently by reporters and others trying to come to grips with complicated policy issues that entail both costs and benefits.

This particular policy analysis function, however, may not be considered a “fundamental and optimal requirement” by every member of the House.

“Even when we did find time and space to do serious research, lawmakers ignored our work or trashed us if our findings ran contrary to their beliefs,” wrote former CRS analyst Kosar.