Islamic State: Frequently Asked Questions, & More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that were issued last week — but withheld from public release — include the following.

The Islamic State — Frequently Asked Questions: Threats, Global Implications, and U.S. Policy Responses, November 19, 2015

The “Islamic State” and U.S. Policy, updated November 18, 2015 (and still using the quotation marks that have now been dropped in the titles of other CRS reports)

Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, updated November 18, 2015

Syrian Refugee Admissions and Resettlement in the United States: In Brief, November 19, 2015

Can States and Localities Bar the Resettlement of Syrian Refugees Within Their Jurisdictions?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 18, 2015

Immigration: Visa Security Policies, updated November 18, 2015

Paris Attacks and “Going Dark”: Intelligence-Related Issues to Consider, CRS Insight, November 19, 2015

France: Efforts to Counter Islamist Terrorism and Radicalization, CRS Insight, updated November 18, 2015

The recent decision to deploy “fewer than 50” U.S. special operations personnel to Syria is addressed in the latest update of U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, November 19, 2015.

Over time, five countries have actually been removed from the lists of designated sponsors of terrorism, CRS noted in State Sponsors of Acts of International Terrorism–Legislative Parameters: In Brief, updated November 19, 2015.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): In Brief, November 19, 2015

U.S. Agent Orange/Dioxin Assistance to Vietnam, November 13, 2015

Puerto Rico and Health Care Finance: Frequently Asked Questions, November 18, 2015

Malaysia: Background and U.S. Relations, updated November 19, 2015

Air travelers should not expect to catch direct flights between the United States and Iran any time soon, CRS said in Iran-U.S. Air Service Not Imminent, CRS Insight, November 18, 2015.

Tools for Deterring Terrorist Travel (CRS)

A new report issued by the Congressional Research Service describes the various procedures that the U.S. government can use “to prevent individuals from traveling to, from, or within the United States to commit acts of terrorism.”

See Legal Tools to Deter Travel by Suspected Terrorists: A Brief Primer, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 16, 2015.

In light of the Paris attacks, CRS also updated its short report on European Security, Islamist Terrorism, and Returning Fighters, CRS Insights, November 16, 2015.

Federal R&D Funding, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have been withheld from broad public distribution include the following.

Federal Research and Development Funding: FY2016, November 10, 2015

The Speaker of the House: House Officer, Party Leader, and Representative, November 12, 2015

Fifth Circuit Declines to Lift Injunction Barring Implementation of the Obama Administration’s 2014 Deferred Action Programs, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 12, 2015

Temporarily Filling Presidentially Appointed, Senate-Confirmed Positions, November 10, 2015

Congressional Nominations to U.S. Service Academies: An Overview and Resources for Outreach and Management, November 10, 2015

Researching Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Resources for Congressional Staff, November 9, 2015

Federalism Issues in Surface Transportation Policy: A Historical Perspective, November 6, 2015

Veterans and Homelessness, November 6, 2015

U.S.-Mexico Water Sharing: Background and Recent Developments, November 10, 2015

Navy Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) Program: Background and Issues for Congress, November 10, 2015

Navy Ship Names: Background For Congress, November 9, 2015

Navy Ohio Replacement (SSBN[X]) Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress, November 9, 2015

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress, November 6, 2015

Navy DDG-51 and DDG-1000 Destroyer Programs: Background and Issues for Congress, November 6, 2015

Navy TAO(X) Oiler Shipbuilding Program: Background and Issues for Congress, November 6, 2015

Navy LX(R) Amphibious Ship Program: Background and Issues for Congress, November 6, 2015

Navy Virginia (SSN-774) Class Attack Submarine Procurement: Background and Issues for Congress, November 5, 2015

Obama Administration Rejects Keystone XL Pipeline Permit Request: Could Congress Nevertheless Approve It?, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 9, 2015

U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have been withheld from broad public distribution include the following.

U.S. Strategic Nuclear Forces: Background, Developments, and Issues, updated November 3, 2015

The New START Treaty: Central Limits and Key Provisions, updated November 3, 2015

Iran Sanctions, updated November 3, 2015

Tropical Storm? The Supreme Court Considers Double Jeopardy and the Sovereign Status of Puerto RicoCRS Legal Sidebar, November 4, 2015

Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015: Adjustments to the Budget Control Act of 2011CRS Insight, November 6, 2015

You Win Some You Lose Some… New Second Amendment RulingsCRS Legal Sidebar, November 5, 2015

Speakers of the House: Elections, 1913-2015, updated November 3, 2015

Multilateral Development Banks: U.S. Contributions FY2000-FY2015, updated November 3, 2015

The Future of Internet Governance: Should the U.S. Relinquish Its Authority Over ICANN?, updated November 3, 2015

Social Security and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Provisions in the Proposed Bipartisan Budget Agreement of 2015, November 3, 2015

U.S. Trade in Services: Trends and Policy Issues, updated November 3, 2015

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 5, 2015

Navy Force Structure and Shipbuilding Plans: Background and Issues for Congress, updated November 4, 2015

Police Use of Force, and More from CRS

What are the constitutional limits on police use of force? What remedies are available when those limits are exceeded? And in light of recent episodes of police violence, how might the limits and the remedies be modified?

Those questions are addressed in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

“By the very nature of their job, law enforcement officers are tasked with using physical force to restrain individuals and protect themselves and others from harm,” the CRS report states. “Police officers must stop and seize violent suspects, serve search warrants in hostile environments, and maintain the peace and safety of the communities in which they serve.”

Yet “recent law enforcement-related deaths… have prompted a call for legal accountability against the officers involved in these killings, but also, more broadly, for systemic police reform on both the federal and state level.”

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See Police Use of Force: Rules, Remedies, and Reforms, October 30, 2015.

Other new and newly updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Is Violent Crime in the United States Increasing?, October 29, 2015

Apportioning Seats in the U.S. House of Representatives Using the 2013 Estimated Citizen Population, updated October 30, 2015

The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation, updated November 2, 2015

Aiding Israel after the Iran Nuclear Deal: Issues for Congress, CRS Insight, October 30, 2015

Designation of Global ‘Too Big To Fail’ Firms, CRS Insight, October 29, 2015

The Independent Payment Advisory Board (IPAB): Frequently Asked Questions, October 30, 2015

Cargo Preferences for U.S.-Flag Shipping, October 29, 2015

The EU-U.S. Safe Harbor Agreement on Personal Data Privacy: In Brief, October 29, 2015

The Legal Process to Reschedule Marijuana, CRS Legal Sidebar, November 2, 2015

Government Speech, Religious Displays, and Finding Balance in the First Amendment, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 30, 2015

Impeachment and Removal, October 29, 2015

Advisory Committee Meetings Often Closed, and More from CRS

The 1972 Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), one of the “open government” laws, generally mandates that federal advisory committee meetings be held openly, except under certain specified circumstances. But over the past ten years, the number of closed meetings has actually increased, a new analysis by the Congressional Research Service found.

“FY2014 reported the highest percentage of closed meetings (71.1%) during the time period of examination,” CRS found.

Official advisory committees can be an important mechanism for exerting non-governmental influence on the policies of executive branch agencies. So the composition of such committees, their operations and their recommendations are susceptible to political pressures. FACA was intended to help counter abuse of the advisory committee process and ensure a modicum of fairness to competing points of view, in part by requiring that their meetings be conducted openly.

There are normally around a thousand advisory committees subject to FACA. “Generally, around 70,000 people serve as members on FACA committees and subcommittees in any given year. In FY2014, 68,179 members served. In FY2014, 825 federal advisory committees held 7,173 meetings and cost more than $334 million to operate,” the CRS report found.

See The Federal Advisory Committee Act: Analysis of Operations and Costs, October 27, 2015.

Other new reports from Congressional Research Service include the following.

The European Union (EU): Current Challenges and Future Prospects in Brief, October 27, 2015

Air Force Bomber Contract Awarded, CRS Insight, October 28, 2015

A Survey of House and Senate Committee Rules on Subpoenas, October 26, 2015

Federal Reserve: Dividends Paid to Commercial Banks, CRS Insight, October 28, 2015:

Birthright Citizenship and Children Born in the United States to Alien Parents: An Overview of the Legal Debate, October 28, 2015

Iran’s Central Bank Will Have Its Day in the Supreme Court, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 28, 2015

Congressional Efforts to Reduce Restrictions on Growing Industrial Hemp, CRS Insight, October 29, 2015

Senate Passes Cybersecurity Information Sharing Bill — What’s Next?, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 28, 2015

Electing the Speaker of the House, and More from CRS

Procedures for electing a new Speaker of the House of Representatives are outlined in a new report from the Congressional Research Service. See Electing the Speaker of the House of Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions, October 23, 2015.

Other new and updated CRS products include the following.

Recognition of Same-Sex Marriage: Implications for Religious Objections, October 23, 2015

Sentencing Reform: Comparison of Selected Proposals, October 26, 2015

Another Foreign Bank Claims FinCEN’s “Death Sentence” Requires Better Procedures, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 26, 2015

Federal Court Rules That Bureau of Land Management Likely Lacks Authority to Promulgate Fracking Rule, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 26, 2015

Argentina’s 2015 Presidential Election, CRS Insight, updated October 26, 2015

Bahrain: Reform, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated October 26, 2015

Israel: Background and U.S. Relations In Brief, October 23, 2015

At CRS, Confidentiality is an End in Itself

The ability of Congressional Research Service analysts to support congressional deliberations is substantially enabled by (if not entirely predicated on) the confidentiality with which requests from individual Members of Congress and the CRS responses to those requests are handled.

Confidentiality permits congressional offices to consider politically sensitive or unpopular topics, and to evaluate new perspectives dispassionately without being prematurely locked into an ideologically-determined position.

A new CRS policy statement embraces the “fundamental core value” of confidentiality. But then CRS ratchets it up to the point of absurdity.

“[CRS] staff must maintain a confidential relationship with congressional clients at all times. Each and every inquiry CRS receives is part of a confidential relationship,” the CRS policy affirms. So far, so good.

“Confidentiality requires that CRS staff members never acknowledge to another congressional client, government entity or official, or to the public or media, work that has been done for a specific Member or committee.” Okay. But then CRS goes over the edge.

“Even in instances when a Member or committee publicly releases a confidential memorandum that CRS has prepared, staff may not provide copies of the memorandum to other congressional clients.” That’s overkill.

“You should answer any questions that [other] congressional clients have about the issue by preparing a new memorandum or other form of response […], but you must do so in a way that neither confirms nor denies that CRS did the work that has been made publicly available [by the Member or committee].” Instead of confidentiality serving as a valuable means to an end, the new policy here elevates confidentiality into an end in itself, and in doing so casts doubt on the good sense of CRS management.

Attempts to elicit comment from CRS on this issue last week by telephone and email were not successful.

See Policy on Confidentiality, Congressional Research Service, September 22, 2015, with accompanying Frequently Asked Questions.

All of that pertains to confidential memoranda that are prepared for individual Members or committees. By contrast, CRS Reports are produced for the Congress as a whole. As such, they are “accorded a less restrictive level of confidentiality than other types of CRS work,” the new policy states. But others would say the reports are not confidential at all, and should not be, particularly since they do not implicate the views of any individual Member of Congress.

New and updated CRS publications of the latter sort that were issued in the past week include the following.

Is This the First Step in Undoing Mass Incarceration? 6,000 Federal Drug Offenders Set to be Released, CRS Insight, October 22, 2015

Legal Obligation of U.S. Armed Forces to Intervene in Acts of Bacha Bazi in Afghanistan, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 22, 2015

Escalating Violence in El Salvador, CRS Insight, October 22, 2015

China’s Recent Stock Market Volatility: What Are the Implications?, CRS Insight, updated October 21, 2015

Oil to Spare: The House Passes a Repeal of Crude Oil Export Restrictions, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 23, 2015

The Effect of Base-Broadening Measures on Labor Supply and Investment: Considerations for Tax Reform, October 22, 2015

Department of Veterans Affairs FY2016 Appropriations: In Brief, October 22, 2015

Vulnerable Youth: Federal Mentoring Programs and Issues, October 22, 2015

Legislative Actions to Repeal, Defund, or Delay the Affordable Care Act, October 22, 2015

Financial Transactions Taxes: In Brief, October 22, 2015

U.S. Postal Service Workforce Size and Employment Categories, FY1995-FY2014, October 21, 2015

Potential Policy Implications of the House Reconciliation Bill (H.R. 3762), October 21, 2015

Why Are Over-Income Tenants Living in Public Housing?, CRS Insight, October 22, 2015

A Reporter’s Privilege Workaround, and More from CRS

New and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Privilege Against Self-Incrimination Supplements Journalist Privilege, CRS Legal Sidebar, October 20, 2015

Supreme Court Appointment Process: President’s Selection of a Nominee, October 19, 2015

Supreme Court Appointment Process: Consideration by the Senate Judiciary Committee, October 19, 2015

Supreme Court Appointment Process: Senate Debate and Confirmation Vote, October 19, 2015

Points of Order in the Congressional Budget Process, updated October 20, 2015

Creating a Federal Advisory Committee in the Executive Branch, October 19, 2015

Legislative Branch Agency Appointments: History, Processes, and Recent Actions, updated October 19, 2015

Federal Aid for Reconstruction of Houses of Worship: A Legal Analysis, October 19, 2015

Sanctuary Jurisdictions and Criminal Aliens: In Brief, October 20, 2015

Elections in Haiti, CRS Insight, October 20, 2015

Argentina’s 2015 Presidential Election, CRS Insight, October 20, 2015

U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation Following “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Escape, CRS Insights, updated October 20, 2015

Iran’s Nuclear Program: Tehran’s Compliance with International Obligations, updated October 19, 2015

U.S. Foreign Assistance to the Middle East: Historical Background, Recent Trends, and the FY2016 Request, October 19, 2015

*    *    *

The ready availability of most CRS reports online in recent years has demonstrated at least a couple of things.

First, they are actually useful.  And they are used — by reporters, researchers and members of the general public. Every day, news stories and editorials cite to CRS publications as authoritative sources of non-partisan information.

Second, their broad public dissemination online has generated no adverse effects on CRS as an institution. In particular, it has not interfered with analysts’ productivity or candor, or with the conduct of congressional operations.

But authorized disclosure of CRS reports would be greatly preferable to the existing practice of unauthorized disclosure. The unauthorized route involves time-consuming collection and processing activity by people whose efforts could perhaps be applied more productively in other ways. And while the public archive of current CRS reports is probably more than 80% complete, it is not 100% complete.

A new initiative to gain authorized public access to CRS reports is now getting some traction. The issue is being addressed today on Capitol Hill at a meeting of the Congressional Transparency Caucus.

Numerous former CRS experts and analysts have written to congressional leaders to express their support for public access.

And a bipartisan resolution in favor of public access has been introduced in the House by Reps. Mike Quigley (D-IL) and Leonard Lance (R-NJ).

It may yet happen.


Uses of Force Abroad 1798-2015, and More from CRS

The United States has used its armed forces hundreds of times in conflicts abroad, even though it has only engaged in eleven declared wars throughout its history.

A newly updated tabulation of U.S. military actions has been prepared by the Congressional Research Service, up to and including the October 14, 2015 deployment of 90 U.S. troops to Cameroon. The CRS listing does not include covert actions, disaster relief operations or training exercises. See  Instances of Use of United States Armed Forces Abroad, 1798-2015, October 15, 2015.

Other new or newly updated CRS products include the following.

U.S. Natural Gas Exports and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, CRS Insight, October 15, 2015

International Crises and Disasters: U.S. Humanitarian Assistance Response Mechanisms, updated October 16, 2015

State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs: FY2016 Budget and Appropriations, updated October 13, 2015

Less-than-Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement Signed in Burma, CRS Insight, October 15, 2015

U.S.-China Cyber Agreement, CRS Insight, October 16, 2015

Greenhouse Gas Pledges by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, updated October 19, 2015

Alternative Inflation Measures for the Social Security Cost-of-Living Adjustment (COLA), updated October 15, 2015

Federal Public Transportation Program: In Brief, updated October 15, 2015

Number of Hispanic U.S. Circuit and District Court Judges: Overview and Analysis, CRS Insight, October 15, 2015

A U.S. Patent Box: Issues, CRS Insight, October 15, 2015

Cost-of-Living Adjustments for Federal Civil Service Annuities, updated October 15, 2015

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated October 15, 2015