The “Cadillac Tax,” Congress 101, and More from CRS

Several new reports from the Congressional Research Service examine the implications of the 40% excise tax on high-cost employer-sponsored health care coverage, known as the “Cadillac tax,” that will take effect in 2018.

Excise Tax on High-Cost Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage: In Brief, August 14, 2015

The Excise Tax on High-Cost Employer-Sponsored Health Insurance: Estimated Economic and Market Effects, August 20, 2015

The Excise Tax on High-Cost Employer-Sponsored Health Coverage: Background and Economic Analysis, August 20, 2015

Other newly-updated CRS reports introduce the basic legislative functions of Congress, perhaps for novice Members and staff.

Resolving Legislative Differences in Congress: Conference Committees and Amendments Between the Houses, August 3, 2015

House Committee Hearings: Preparation, August 25, 2015

House Committee Hearings: Arranging Witnesses, August 25, 2015

House Committee Hearings: Scheduling and Notification, August 25, 2015

Calendars of the House of Representatives, August 25, 2015

Pairing in Congressional Voting: The House, August 25, 2015

Quorum Requirements in the House: Committee and Chamber, August 25, 2015

Amendments in the Senate: Types and Forms, August 25, 2015

Amendments in the House: Types and Forms, August 21, 2015

How Measures Are Brought to the Senate Floor: A Brief Introduction, August 5, 2015

Introducing a House Bill or Resolution, August 6, 2015

House Committee Hearings: Witness Testimony, August 10, 2015

Types of Committee Hearings, August 10, 2015

Delegates to the U.S. Congress: History and Current Status, August 25, 2015

Intelligence Contractor Oversight, and More from CRS

Effective oversight of intelligence community contractors is a particularly difficult exercise since the reliability of official data on contractor activities is uncertain and most of it is classified and inaccessible to outsiders, a new report from the Congressional Research Service explains.

“Contractors have been and are an integral part of the intelligence community’s (IC’s) total workforce (which also includes federal employees and military personnel). Yet questions have been raised regarding how they are used, and the size and cost of the contractor component.”

The new CRS report “describes several initiatives designed, or used, to track contractors or contractor employees. [It also] addresses the questions of whether IC contractor personnel are performing inherently governmental functions and whether the IC’s acquisition workforce is equipped to monitor contractors performing critical functions….”

The CRS report itself was prepared without access to classified data on the role of contractors, so it sheds no new factual light on the subject. Instead, it summarizes the recent literature on internal IC contractor management and congressional oversight of IC contractors.  See The Intelligence Community and Its Use of Contractors: Congressional Oversight Issues, August 18, 2015.

Dozens of other new and updated CRS reports were obtained and posted online last week, including these:

The Greek Debt Crisis: Overview and Implications for the United States, August 19, 2015

China’s Currency Devaluation, CRS Insights, August 17, 2015

Powering Africa: Challenges of and U.S. Aid for Electrification in Africa, August 17, 2015

Unaccompanied Alien Children: An Overview, updated August 18, 2015

Mandatory Minimum Sentencing: Federal Aggravated Identity Theft, updated August 20, 2015

Medal of Honor: History and Issues, updated August 18, 2015

Sentence for Killing a Bald Eagle Found Too Severe and Unauthorized, CRS Legal Sidebar, August 18, 2015

Biopower: Background and Federal Support, updated August 14, 2015

California Drought: Hydrological and Regulatory Water Supply Issues, updated August 14, 2015

Automatic Continuing Resolutions: Background and Overview of Recent Proposals, August 20, 2015

“Who is a Veteran?” — Basic Eligibility for Veterans’ Benefits, updated August 19, 2015

Afghanistan: Post-Taliban Governance, Security, and U.S. Policy, updated August 17, 2015

Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, updated August 18, 2015

Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty: Background and Current Developments, updated August 14, 2015

Not new, but of renewed current interest is Birthright Citizenship Under the 14th Amendment of Persons Born in the United States to Alien Parents, January 10, 2012.

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The long-term vitality of the Congressional Research Service is threatened by Congress’s repeated refusals to appropriate the modest budget increases ($5 million in FY2016) that the agency has requested in recent years. Reductions in the quality of CRS publications and in the depth of staff expertise are foreseeable.

Other congressional support agencies and professional staff face similar curbs on funding, to the detriment of the legislative process.

“Why would Congress cannibalize its own legislative and creative capacity?” ask political science professors Anthony Madonna and Ian Ostrander. See “If Congress keeps cutting its staff, who is writing your laws? You won’t like the answer,” Washington Post, August 20.

Countering the Islamic State, and More from CRS

Some 60 nations and partner organizations have made commitments to help counter the Islamic State with military forces or resources, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

But coalition efforts suffer from a lack of coherence, CRS said. “Without a single authority responsible for prioritizing and adjudicating between different multinational civilian and military lines of effort, different actors often work at cross-purposes without intending to do so.”

CRS tabulated the contributions of each of the coalition partners by country and capability. “Each nation is contributing to the coalition in a manner commensurate with its national interests and comparative advantage, although reporting on nonmilitary contributions tends to be sporadic,” the report said.

“Some illustrative examples of the kinds of counter-IS assistance countries provided as the coalition was being formed in September 2014 include: Switzerland’s donation $9 million in aid to Iraq, Belgium’s contribution of 13 tons of aid to Iraq generally, Italy’s contribution of $2.5 million of weaponry (including machine guns, rocket-propelled grenades and a million rounds of ammunition), and Japan’s granting of $6 million in emergency aid to specifically help displaced people in Northern Iraq.” See Coalition Contributions to Countering the Islamic State, August 4, 2015.

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The history and legal status of the U.S. military base in Guantanamo Bay were reviewed in another new CRS report.

“The origins of the U.S. military installation at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, lie in the execution of military operations during the Spanish-American War of April-August of 1898,” the report explained. Subsequent lease agreements signed in 1903 and 1934 “acknowledged Cuban sovereignty” over the site of the military base “but granted to the United States ‘complete jurisdiction and control over’ the property as long as it remained occupied.”

The existing leases “can only be modified or abrogated pursuant to an agreement between the United States and Cuba. The territorial limits of the naval station remain as they were in 1934 unless the United States abandons Guantanamo Bay or the two governments reach an agreement to modify its boundaries. While there appears to be no consensus on whether the President can modify the agreement alone, Congress is empowered to alter by statute the effect of the underlying 1934 treaty. There is no current law that would expressly prohibit the negotiation of lease modifications with the existing government of Cuba.”

However, “Congress has imposed practical impediments to closing the naval station by, for example, restricting the transfer of detainees from Guantanamo Bay to foreign countries.” See Naval Station Guantanamo Bay: History and Legal Issues Regarding Its Lease Agreements, August 4, 2015.

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Many of the issues raised by the pending Iran nuclear agreement that Congress is likely to consider were itemized and described in another new CRS report obtained by Secrecy News.

“These issues include those related to monitoring and enforcing the agreement itself, how the sanctions relief provided by the agreement would affect Iran’s regional and domestic policies, the implications for regional security, and the potential for the agreement to change the course of U.S.-Iran relations,” the report said.

See Iran Nuclear Agreement: Selected Issues for Congress, August 6, 2015.

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Other new and updated CRS reports that Congress has declined to make publicly available online include the following.

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, updated August 5, 2015

Iran Sanctions, updated August 4, 2015

History of the Navy UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike aircraft) Program Requirements: In Brief, August 3, 2015

Federal Support for Reproductive Health Services: Frequently Asked Questions, August 4, 2015

Fetal Tissue Research: Frequently Asked Questions, July 31, 2015

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (GINA), updated August 6, 2015

Specialty Drugs: Background and Policy Concerns, August 3, 2015

Social Security: The Trust Funds, updated August 5, 2015

Medicare Financial Status: In Brief, updated August 10, 2015

Presidential Permit Review for Cross-Border Pipelines and Electric Transmission, August 6, 2015

EPA’s Clean Power Plan: Highlights of the Final Rule, August 14, 2015

Libya: Transition and U.S. Policy, updated August 3, 2015

U.S. Trade Concepts, Performance, and Policy: Frequently Asked Questions, updated August 3, 2015

National Security Letters in Foreign Intelligence Investigations: A Glimpse at the Legal Background, updated July 31, 2015

Nuclear Cooperation with Other Countries: A Primer, updated August 5, 2015

A New Direction for the Library of Congress?

With the impending retirement of the longtime Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, there is an opportunity for a fundamental reconsideration of the function and operation of the Library of Congress. In particular, the time may be ripe for a massive expansion of the Library’s digitized holdings, enabling universal public access to its historic and cultural riches.

There are “Great New Possibilities for the Library of Congress!” according to the headline of an article by Harvard professor Robert Darnton in the New York Review of Books, August 13 (sub. req’d, exclamation mark in the original).

Dr. Billington (who oddly goes unmentioned by name in the NY Review article) is a figure of exceptional stature, and he has been for a long time. The 1959 book Tolstoy or Dostoevsky by the eminent literary critic George Steiner included an acknowledgment of thanks to Billington along with Isaiah Berlin, Alexandre Koyré, and J. Robert Oppenheimer, among other icons of a prior era. More recently, in 2004, former FAS President Jeremy J. Stone facilitated a trip by Dr. Billington to Iran to meet with the director of that country’s National Library, the first such visit to Iran by any U.S. government official in many years. (Originally “unannounced” and confidential, the trip was, ahem, disclosed by the Federation of American Scientists and reported in the New York Times, and it is now cited in Billington’s official bio.)

But one thing Dr. Billington has not been, by most accounts, is a digital pioneer who could lead the Library of Congress boldly into the unfolding media and communications environment of the present day. (However, his bio notes to the contrary that “His proposal in 2005 for the creation of a World Digital Library was endorsed by UNESCO in 2007 and launched online at www.wdl.org in April 2009.”)

The time for a change may have come.

“While other great libraries were leading the way into the digital future, [the Library of Congress] failed to manage its own information technology,” wrote Prof. Darnton in the NY Review.

“A new regime at the Library of Congress (LOC) could digitize its collections and link them with collections in other libraries, archives, and museums so that everyone has access to the resources that are everyone’s heritage… The repository of the LOC would then serve as the heart of a digital circulatory system that would energize the entire country,” Darnton wrote.

Perhaps so, although the chain of causality in that vision is a little vague. But much less ambitiously, the arrival of new leadership at the Library of Congress might also set the stage for a change of policy authorizing public access to non-confidential products of the Congressional Research Service, which is formally a part of the Library (though CRS too goes unmentioned in the NY Review article).

Until then, unauthorized access will have to do. New and updated reports from CRS that Congress has not seen fit to make publicly available online include the following.

A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, Operation Inherent Resolve, Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom, updated August 7, 2015

Department of Homeland Security Appropriations: FY2016, August 7, 2015

FY2016 Appropriations for the Census Bureau and Bureau of Economic Analysis, August 7, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges: Same-Sex Marriage Legalized, August 7, 2015

Maritime Territorial and Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Disputes Involving China: Issues for Congress, updated August 7, 2015

Mass Shootings Becoming More Prevalent, CRS Finds

Mass murder involving firearms has become more prevalent in the United States over recent decades, according to data presented in a new report from the Congressional Research Service.

In the 1970s, there was an average of 1.1 such mass homicide incidents per year, with 5.5 victims murdered and 2.0 wounded per incident. The numbers have increased each decade since then. By 2010-2013, there was an average of 4.5 incidents per year, with 7.4 victims murdered and 6.3 wounded per incident.

The CRS report said that the prospects for a legislative response to such mass murders might possibly be enhanced if the quality and specificity of reporting on them were improved.

“With improved data, policymakers would arguably have additional vantage points from which to assess the legislative proposals that are inevitably made in the wake of these tragedies.”

CRS therefore suggested requiring federal agencies to report annually on firearms-related mass murders, including data on (1) offender acquisition of firearms, (2) types of firearms used, (3) amounts and types of ammunition carried and shots fired, (4) killed and wounded counts, (5) offender histories of mental illness and domestic violence, and (6) victim-offender relationships.

A copy of the new CRS report was obtained by Secrecy News. See Mass Murder with Firearms, 1999-2013, July 30, 2015.

Other new and updated products from CRS include the following.

Armed Career Criminal Act (18 U.S.C. 924(e)): An Overview, updated July 29, 2015

The Iran Hostages: Efforts to Obtain Compensation, updated July 30, 2015

Consumer and Credit Reporting, Scoring, and Related Policy Issues, July 30, 2015

NLRB Weighs In on Insulting Facebook Posts Cases, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 31, 2015

License Plates and Public Signs: Government First Amendment Speech, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 29, 2015

Patent Litigation Reform Legislation in the 114th Congress, updated July 29, 2015

Filling the Senate “Amendment Tree,” CRS Insights, July 28, 2015

Defense Health Program Funding Shortfall for Fiscal Year 2015, CRS Insights, July 30, 2015

The Federal Tax Treatment of Married Same-Sex Couples, updated July 30, 2015

Expansion of WTO Information Technology Agreement Targets December Conclusion, CRS Insights, July 28, 2015

Mexico’s Oil and Gas Sector: Background, Reform Efforts, and Implications for the United States, updated July 30, 2015

The 2015 National Military Strategy: Background and Questions for Congress, CRS Insights, July 29, 2015

China’s Stock Market Volatility, and More from CRS

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

China’s Recent Stock Market Volatility: What Are the Implications?, CRS Insights, July 20, 2015

Can Military Servicemembers Carry Firearms for Personal Protection on Duty?, CRS Insights, July 17, 2015

Department of Defense Contractor and Troop Levels in Iraq and Afghanistan: 2007-2014, July 22, 2015

Microbeads: An Emerging Water Quality Issue, CRS Insights, July 20, 2015

OPM Data Breach: Personnel Security Background Investigation Data, CRS Insights, July 24, 2015

Cyber Intrusion into U.S. Office of Personnel Management: In Brief, July 17, 2015

U.S.-Mexico Security Cooperation Following “El Chapo” Guzmán’s Escape, CRS Insights, July 21, 2015

Mexico: Organized Crime and Drug Trafficking Organizations, updated July 22, 2015

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation, updated July 21, 2015

Iran Nuclear Agreement, updated July 22, 2015

Agricultural Biotechnology: Background, Regulation, and Policy Issues, updated July 20, 2015

A Primer on WIC: The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, July 21, 2015

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID): Background, Operations, and Issues, July 21, 2015

U.S. Foreign Assistance to Latin America and the Caribbean: Recent Trends and FY2016 Appropriations, July 21, 2015

U.S. Agricultural Trade with Cuba: Current Limitations and Future Prospects, July 23, 2015

Sanctuary Jurisdictions and Criminal Aliens: In Brief, July 24, 2015

FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act: Selected Military Personnel Issues, July 22, 2015

Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations, updated July 24, 2015

The European Union: Questions and Answers, updated July 24, 2015

Airline Passenger Rights: The Federal Role in Aviation Consumer Protection, updated July 21, 2015

Update on the Highly-Pathogenic Avian Influenza Outbreak of 2014-2015, July 20, 2015

The Dark Web, and More from CRS

A new report from the Congressional Research Service introduces the “Dark Web” and its implications for law enforcement and security.

“The Dark Web is a general term that describes hidden Internet sites that users cannot access without using special software. Users access the Dark Web with the expectation of being able to share information and/or files with little risk of detection,” the CRS report said.

“This report illuminates information on the various layers of the Internet, with a particular focus on the Dark Web. It discusses both legitimate and illicit uses of the Dark Web, including how the government may rely upon it. Throughout, the report raises issues that policy makers may consider as they explore means to curb malicious activity online.” See Dark Web, July 7, 2015.

Other new or updated reports from CRS on topics of current policy interest include the following.

Cybersecurity: Legislation, Hearings, and Executive Branch Documents, July 15, 2015

Is There a Judicial Remedy for Victims of Federal Data Breaches?, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 15, 2015

Iran: U.S. Economic Sanctions and the Authority to Lift Restrictions, July 15, 2015

State and Local “Sanctuary” Policies Limiting Participation in Immigration Enforcement, July 10, 2015

Recent Shooting in San Francisco Raises Questions about “Sanctuary Cities” and Compliance with Immigration Detainers, CRS Legal Sidebar, July 9, 2015

Stafford Act Declarations 1953-2014: Trends, Analyses, and Implications for Congress, July 14, 2015

Federal Disaster Assistance Response and Recovery Programs: Brief Summaries, July 9, 2015

Women in Combat: Issues for Congress, July 14, 2015

Abortion and Family Planning-Related Provisions in U.S. Foreign Assistance Law and Policy, July 15, 2015

Counting Regulations: An Overview of Rulemaking, Types of Federal Regulations, and Pages in the Federal Register, July 14, 2015

Use of the Annual Appropriations Process to Block Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (FY2011-FY2016), July 10, 2015

H.R. 6: The 21st Century Cures Act, July 8, 2015

Hydropower: Federal and Nonfederal Investment, July 7, 2015

Reestablishment of Diplomatic Relations with Cuba, CRS Insights, July 10, 2015

Display of the Confederate Flag at Federal Cemeteries, CRS Insights, July 10, 2015

Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response, July 15, 2015

Momentum appears to be gathering in favor of providing authorized public access to CRS reports. (The access offered by Secrecy News is “unauthorized” by Congress or CRS.)

“By providing public access to CRS reports, we can elevate our national discourse and make it easier for citizens to cut through the misinformation that too often confuses the national debate,” wrote Reps. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) in a June 17 letter to the House Administration Committee. See “Should Congressional Research Service Reports Be Public?” by Hannah Hess, Roll Call, July 14.

Meanwhile, CRS has recently updated its arguments in opposition to such public access. See “Considerations Arising from the Public Dissemination of CRS Products,” April 2015.

Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, and More from CRS

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

The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative: Lessons Learned and Issues for Congress, updated July 2, 2015

Acquisition Reform in House- and Senate-Passed Versions of the FY2016 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 1735), July 2, 2015

Iran’s Foreign Policy, updated June 30, 2015

Iran: Efforts to Achieve a Nuclear Accord, updated July 1, 2015

Puerto Rico’s Current Fiscal Challenges: In Brief, June 30, 2015

Burma’s Parliament Defeats Constitutional Amendments, CRS Insights, June 30, 2015

Ex-Im Bank’s General Statutory Authority Expires, CRS Insights, July 1, 2015

Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV): World Health Organization Responses, CRS Insights, July 2, 2015

Job Creation in the Manufacturing Revival, updated July 2, 2015

The Crime Victims Fund: Federal Support for Victims of Crime, updated June 30, 2015

Systemically Important or “Too Big to Fail” Financial Institutions, updated June 30, 2015

EPA and the Army Corps’ Proposed Rule to Define “Waters of the United States”, updated June 29, 2015

EPA and the Army Corps’ Proposed “Waters of the United States” Rule: Congressional Response and Options, updated June 29, 2015

The Federal Communications Commission: Current Structure and Its Role in the Changing Telecommunications Landscape, updated June 29, 2015

The 2015 National Security Strategy: Authorities, Changes, Issues for Congress, updated July 2, 2015

U.S.-Republic of Korea Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, CRS Insights, June 30, 2015. The text of the proposed “123” agreement between the US and Korea is available here.

Criminal Justice Reform, and More from CRS

“The number of people incarcerated in the United States has increased dramatically over the past three decades,” a new report from the Congressional Research Service observes, from around 419,000 inmates in 1983 to about 1.5 million inmates in 2013.

“The incarceration rate increased from 179 per 100,000 people in 1983 to 478 per 100,000 in 2013,” generating mounting concerns about the economic, social and other consequences of the criminal justice system.

At this point, CRS says, “incarceration has probably reached the point of diminishing returns.”

The new CRS report looks at approaches to reducing the imprisoned population. “Because courts and correctional officials make decisions about who can safely be diverted from incarceration or granted early release, they may benefit from tools that can help in this process. Actuarial risk assessment tools may serve this purpose. Needs assessments could also help correctional officials make determinations about which offenders need higher levels of supervision and/or rehabilitative programming.”

A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News. See Risk and Needs Assessment in the Criminal Justice System, June 22, 2015.

Other new reports from the Congressional Research Service include the following.

Procedures for Congressional Action in Relation to a Nuclear Agreement with Iran: In Brief, June 23, 2015

Greenhouse Gas Pledges by Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, June 29, 2015

U.S. Capital Markets and International Accounting Standards: GAAP Versus IFRS, June 25, 2015

Sex Trafficking: An Overview of Federal Criminal Law, June 25, 2015

Appointment and Confirmation of Executive Branch Leadership: An Overview, June 22, 2015

Judiciary Appropriations FY2016, June 18, 2015

Last year, CRS introduced a new product line called CRS Insights, which offers short takes on topics of current news or policy interest, typically with links to more substantive analyses by CRS and others. CRS Insights are provided to Congress “in response to client feedback asking for shorter, more succinct products that are published quickly in response to fast-moving public policy issues.”

Some of the latest examples include the following.

Economic Crisis in Greece, CRS Insights, June 29, 2015

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council Votes Down Chief Executive Election Reform, CRS Insights, June 22, 2015

Vietnam’s Communist Party Chief to Make Historic First Visit to Washington, CRS Insights, June 19, 2015

Protecting Civil Aviation from Cyberattacks, CRS Insights, June 18, 2015

South Carolina Church Shooting and Hate Crime in the United States, CRS Insights, June 18, 2015

France: Efforts to Counter Islamist Terrorism and Radicalization, CRS Insights, June 29, 2015

Sifting Domestic Terrorism from Other Illegal Activity, CRS Insights, June 24, 2015

Contrasting Views on Public Release of CRS Reports

Last year, the Congressional Research Service produced more than 1,000 new reports and more than 2,500 updates of previous reports for the use of Congress, according to the latest CRS annual report. Those figures do not include “approximately 62,000 requests for custom analysis and research” for individual members or Committees.

“For all public policy issues, Congress could rely on the authoritative, objective, timely, and confidential support that CRS offered at each stage of the legislative process,” the CRS annual report said.

In principle, CRS should be able to release all of its general distribution reports to the public, while maintaining the confidentiality of analyses prepared for individual members at their request. This common-sense distinction is observed, for example, by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), CRS’s sister organization, which releases many reports but withholds others.

“CBO makes its work widely available to the Congress and the public by releasing publicly all of its formal cost estimates and analytic reports,” CBO Director Keith Hall said in testimony earlier this month.

“In some circumstances, though, the needs of the Congress lead CBO to keep the results of an analysis confidential,” he said. “Such analyses include informal cost estimates and other types of information produced to assist in the development of legislation.”

But some warn that a similarly straightforward, non-neurotic approach to public release of CRS reports could have unintended negative consequences.

“Most reports are readily available through FAS, but that does not mean that the seemingly minor step of making them publicly available from the get-go won’t change the culture at CRS and how Congress uses CRS,” wrote Winslow Wheeler, a former GAO analyst who later worked with the Project on Government Oversight (which actually favors public distribution of CRS reports).

“Some (many) in Congress will be more encouraged to misuse CRS reports just as they now do GAO reports by manipulating the research question to manipulate the content of the report.  That practice is rife at GAO, but not now at CRS,” according to Mr. Wheeler, whose remarks were circulated in an online discussion list in response to a recent New York Times editorial.

“Officially writing for public consumption can also mean that the sometimes technical nature of CRS work will likely be dumbed-down for public consumption….  It could also mean thickening the bureaucracy at CRS if managers there get the notion they are writing for the public, not directly for staff in Congress.”

“The quality of CRS reports, like at GAO, is extremely uneven.  Some are excellent; a few are far from it.  [Writing for public release] will not likely result in more, better reports,” he contended.

As long as most CRS reports are publicly accessible through alternate, unofficial channels, this question can safely remain open.

Update: Former CRS staffer Bob Lyke suggests in a July 2 letter to the editor of the New York Times that “if reports were generally available, the danger is that they would start to be written for a wider audience, perhaps even unconsciously, not the immediate needs of Congress. The focus and scope might change, and the reports could take longer to write.”