Tracking Federal Funds, and More from CRS

“Finding data on federal grants and contracts awarded to states and congressional districts, local governments, nonprofit organizations, contractors, and other eligible entities may present challenges,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes.

The various tools that are available to help meet those challenges are cataloged and described by CRS in Tracking Federal Funds: USAspending.gov and Other Data Sources, May 13, 2015.

Other noteworthy new and updated CRS reports include the following.

Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza: Ongoing Outbreak, CRS Insights, May 19, 2015

Selected Issues in Homeland Security Policy for the 114th Congress, May 19, 2015

Congressional Primer on Responding to Major Disasters and Emergencies, updated May 19, 2015

Deployable Federal Assets Supporting Domestic Disaster Response Operations: Summary and Considerations for Congress, updated May 13, 2015

Critical Infrastructures: Background, Policy and Implementation, updated May 12, 2015

Human-Induced Earthquakes from Deep-Well Injection: A Brief Overview, updated May 12, 2015

Candidates, Groups, and the Campaign Finance Environment, CRS Insights, May 19, 2015

Uncertainty in Financial Projections of Social Security, CRS Insights, May 14, 2015

Freedom of Navigation and Territorial Seas, CRS Legal Sidebar, May 18, 2015

Iran, Gulf Security, and U.S. Policy, updated May 19, 2015

Perspectives on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI) “Torture Report” and Enhanced Interrogation Techniques: In Brief, updated May 14, 2015

Government Collection of Private Information: Background and Issues Related to the USA PATRIOT Act Reauthorization in Brief, May 19, 2015

Sunset of Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001, memorandum for the House Judiciary Committee, May 19, 2015

 

Average U.S. Troop Cost Nearly Doubled Since 1980

The average cost to the U.S. defense budget per individual troop member has increased sharply over the past few decades, a new analysis from the Congressional Research Service found, reflecting changes in the size and structure of the U.S. military.

“Since FY1980, the cost per troop–for all expenses ranging from pay to procurement–has almost doubled in real terms from $200,000 per troop in FY1980 to $390,000 per troop in [the] FY2016 request,” the CRS report noted.

The rising average troop cost figures were presented as part of a larger CRS analysis of Defense Spending and the Budget Control Act Limits, dated May 19, 2015.

Another new CRS report considers 16 alternate scenarios under which it might be possible for the U.S. to produce 80 plutonium “pits” for nuclear weapons each year by 2027, as mandated by Congress. See Nuclear Weapon ‘Pit’ Production: Options to Help Meet a Congressional Requirement, May 14, 2015.

Yet another new CRS report discusses the history and status of U.S. relations with Pakistan, including key points of contention and cooperation. See Pakistan-U.S. Relations: Issues for the 114th Congress, May 14, 2015.

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.

The Future of Internet Governance, and More from CRS

Noteworthy new reports from the Congressional Research Service that Congress has withheld from public distribution include the following.

The Future of Internet Governance: Should the U.S. Relinquish Its Authority Over ICANN?, May 5, 2015

Iran’s Foreign Policy, May 5, 2015

Money for Something: Music Licensing in the 21st Century, May 7, 2015

Current Debates over Exchange Rates: Overview and Issues for Congress, May 7, 2015

Immigration Detainers: Legal Issues, May 7, 2015

U.S.-Mexican Security Cooperation: the Mérida Initiative and Beyond, May 7, 2015

Franking Privilege: Mass Mailings and Mass Communications in the House, 1997-2014, May 6, 2015

Obama Library Likely Headed to Chicago’s South Side, CRS Insights, May 1, 2015

Tesla’s Home Battery–An Electricity Storage Breakthrough?, CRS Insights, May 4, 2015

How DoD Spends Its Contracting Dollars, and More from CRS

The Department of Defense spends more money on contractors than all other federal agencies combined, a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains.

“This report examines (1) how much money DOD obligates on contracts, (2) what DOD is buying, and (3) where that money is being spent.” See Defense Acquisitions: How and Where DOD Spends Its Contracting Dollars, April 30, 2015.

Relatedly, a provision in the pending FY2016 defense authorization bill would require the Government Accountability Office to “carry out a comprehensive review of the processes and procedures for the integration of intelligence into the Department of Defense acquisition process.” (HR 1735, section 1630).

Other noteworthy new reports from CRS that Congress has withheld from regular public disclosure include the following.

Corporate Tax Base Erosion and Profit Shifting (BEPS): An Examination of the Data, April 30, 2015

Tax Expenditures: Overview and Analysis, April 30, 2015

An Introduction to Health Insurance: What Should a Consumer Know?, April 30, 2015

International Investment Agreements (IIAs): Frequently Asked Questions, April 30, 2015

International Air Service Controversies: Frequently Asked Questions, May 4, 2015

Saudi Arabia: Background and U.S. Relations, April 29, 2015

What’s the Difference? — Comparing U.S. and Chinese Trade Data, May 4, 2015

Major U.S. Arms Sales and Grants to Pakistan Since 2001, May 4, 2015

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing, and More from CRS

A new report from the Congressional Research Service looks at the use of mandatory minimum sentencing to punish certain types of crimes, and reviews current legislation to modify that controversial practice.

“A surprising number of federal crimes carry mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment,” CRS said. “That is, they are punishable by imprisonment for a term of not less than some number of years. During the 114th Congress, Members have introduced a number of related proposals. Some would expand the scope of existing mandatory minimum sentencing provisions; others would contract their reach.”  See Mandatory Minimum Sentencing Legislation in the 114th Congress, April 29, 2015.

Other noteworthy new CRS products that Congress has withheld from public distribution include the following.

European Fighters in Syria and Iraq: Assessments, Responses, and Issues for the United States, April 27, 2015

New U.S.-Japan Defense Guidelines Deepen Alliance Cooperation, CRS Insights, April 28, 2015

Questions of the Privileges of the House: An Analysis, April 28, 2015

Civilian Nuclear Waste Disposal, April 24, 2015

The United Kingdom Election, CRS Insights, April 29, 2015

What are the Department of Defense (DOD) Policies on Transgender Service?, CRS Insights, April 28, 2015

The first woman to serve in the U.S. Senate was Rebecca Latimer Felton (D-GA), who was appointed in 1922 to replace a Senator who had died in office. At age 87, Senator Felton was the oldest person ever to begin a Senate career. She served for only one day. See Women in Congress: Historical Overview, Tables, and Discussion, April 29, 2015.

Cybersecurity and Information Sharing, and More from CRS

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

Cybersecurity and Information Sharing: Comparison of H.R. 1560 and H.R. 1731, April 20, 2015

FY2016 Appropriations for the Department of Justice (DOJ), April 15, 2015

Domestic Human Trafficking Legislation in the 114th Congress, April 16, 2015

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA): Frequently Asked Questions, April 20, 2015

Mountaintop Mining: Background on Current Controversies, April 20, 2015

FEMA’s Public Assistance Grant Program: Background and Considerations for Congress, April 16, 2015

Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, April 17, 2015

Islamic State Financing, and More from CRS

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

Islamic State Financing and U.S. Policy Approaches, April 10, 2015

2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force: Issues Concerning Its Continued Application, April 14, 2015

The War Powers Resolution: Concepts and Practice, April 3, 2015

Iran: Efforts to Achieve a Nuclear Accord, April 9, 2015

Science and Technology Issues in the 114th Congress, April 7, 2015

Military Funeral Honors and Military Cemeteries: Frequently Asked Questions, April 10, 2015

Patent Litigation Reform Legislation in the 114th Congress, April 10, 2015

Funding of Presidential Nominating Conventions: An Overview, April 9, 2015

Recent Changes in the Estate and Gift Tax Provisions, April 13, 2015

El Salvador: Background and U.S. Relations, April 9, 2015

Venezuela: Background and U.S. Relations, April 1, 2015

Cuba: U.S. Restrictions on Travel and Remittances, April 10, 2015

Attempt: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, April 6, 2015

Barriers Along the U.S. Borders: Key Authorities and Requirements, April 8, 2015

Railroad-Related Fatalities, and More from CRS

The leading cause of railroad-related deaths is not collisions or derailments, but trespassing, explains a neatly argued new issue brief from the Congressional Research Service. See Rail Safety Efforts Miss Leading Cause of Fatalities, CRS Insights, April 2, 2015.

Other new and newly updated CRS reports that Congress has withheld from public distribution include the following.

Net Neutrality: Selected Legal Issues Raised by the FCC’s 2015 Open Internet Order, April 6, 2015

Ballistic Missile Defense in the Asia-Pacific Region: Cooperation and Opposition, April 3, 2015

An Overview of Unconventional Oil and Natural Gas: Resources and Federal Actions, April 7, 2015

U.S. Crude Oil and Natural Gas Production in Federal and Non-Federal Areas, April 3, 2015

Marijuana: Medical and Retail — Selected Legal Issues, April 8, 2015

Social Media in the House of Representatives: Frequently Asked Questions, April 2, 2015

The No Fly List: Procedural Due Process and Hurdles to Litigation, April 2, 2015

Domestic Drones & Privacy, and More from CRS

The anticipated deployment of thousands of unmanned aerial systems (UAS) — or drones — in American skies raises unresolved privacy concerns that have barely begun to be addressed, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

The CRS report provides “a primer on privacy issues related to various UAS operations, both public and private, including an overview of current UAS uses, the privacy interests implicated by these operations, and various potential approaches to UAS privacy regulation.” See Domestic Drones and Privacy: A Primer, March 30, 2015.

This week, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) filed suit against the Federal Aviation Administration arguing that the FAA was obliged to establish privacy rules for commercial drones and that it had failed to do so.

The privacy implications of drones have been discussed in several congressional hearings over the past two years, yielding these published hearing volumes:

U.S. Unmanned Aircraft Systems: Integration, Oversight, and Competitiveness, House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, December 10, 2014

Eyes in the Sky: The Domestic Use of Unmanned Aerial Systems, House Judiciary Committee, May 17, 2013

The Future of Drones in America: Law Enforcement and Privacy Considerations, Senate Judiciary Committee, March 20, 2013

                *    *    *

Other new or updated CRS reports that Congress has withheld from online public distribution include the following.

Cyberwarfare and Cyberterrorism: In Brief, March 27, 2015

The United Kingdom: Background and Relations with the United States, March 27, 2015

Yemen: Civil War and Regional Intervention, March 26, 2015

Peace Talks in Colombia, March 31, 2015

Membership of the 114th Congress: A Profile, March 31, 2015

Supervised Release (Parole): An Overview of Federal Law, March 5, 2015