The Director of the Congressional Research Service last week issued a revised agency policy on “Interacting with the Media” that warns CRS analysts about the “very real risks” associated with news media contacts and imposes new restrictions on speaking to the press.
“CRS staff must report within 24 hours all on-the-record interactions with any media to their supervisor, including the name of the reporter, media affiliation, date, time, and detailed notes on the matters discussed or to be discussed,” the new policy states (pdf).
“Violations of the media policy will be addressed promptly,” wrote CRS director Daniel P. Mulhollan.
A copy of the CRS policy on “Interacting with the Media” was obtained by Secrecy News.
The new policy “will obviously have a chilling effect on staff,” said one CRS analyst on a not-for-attribution basis. “That’s what it is intended to do.”
The CRS has gained increasing prominence in the news media in recent years. The number of citations to CRS in the Nexis news database rose from 2,076 in 2004 to 3,101 in 2005 to 4,179 in 2006.
This growing public attention is a source of anxiety for CRS management, which fears that the agency may come to be perceived as having an institutional agenda of its own or that its impartiality will be questioned by members of Congress.
“We have all seen the way in which portions of products can be misquoted and taken out of context, potentially damaging the image of our colleagues and the Service in the eyes of some of our clients,” CRS director Mulhollan wrote.
“To assist CRS in refuting misstatements or misquotations, staff must keep detailed notes of media interactions and report promptly to their supervisor,” he instructed.
But the relative impartiality of the CRS and its analysts’ quasi-official standing make it an attractive resource for reporters covering all kinds of domestic and foreign policy matters.
The new restrictions on CRS contacts with the press will therefore be a blow first of all to reporters and others who rely on CRS expertise.
Over time, however, the new policy may also backfire against CRS itself. If analysts cannot publish or freely comment on subjects of their expertise, some will conclude that CRS is not a hospitable venue for their professional development and they will go elsewhere.
“From my personal perspective CRS is being managed without respect and trust for the staff,” said Dennis M. Roth, president of Congressional Research Employees Association, the CRS employees’ union, in July 27, 2006 testimony (pdf) to the House Administration Committee.
“Leadership can be accomplished in many ways, and we believe that CRS currently practices a style inappropriate, damaging, and destructive for a professional service organization…. It is autocratic, centralized, and secretive,” he said.