Secrecy News

Public Access to CRS Reports, Revisited

“Congressional Research Belongs to the Public,” declared a New York Times editorial today, and it is “absurd” that Congress would place any obstacles in the way of public access to Congressional Research Service reports, which provide impartial analyses of current policy issues.

Yet such obstacles continue to exist, and most CRS reports are not publicly disclosed by Congress.

A measure to require the online publication of non-confidential CRS products (H.Res. 34) was introduced in the House of Representatives last January by Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Rep. Martin Quigley (D-IL). But like several prior initiatives along the same lines, there is no sign thus far that their pending measure will advance into law or policy.

For the time being, at least, it is easier to circumvent congressional restrictions on distribution of CRS reports than it is to modify those restrictions.

Noteworthy new and updated CRS reports obtained by Secrecy News include the following.

Cybersecurity and Information Sharing: Comparison of Legislative Proposals in the 114th Congress, June 12, 2015

Chinese Land Reclamation in the South China Sea: Implications and Policy Options, June 16, 2015

Prospects for Democracy in Hong Kong: The 2017 Election Reforms, June 9, 2015

China’s Economic Rise: History, Trends, Challenges, and Implications for the United States, updated June 14, 2015

Turkey After June 2015 Elections: Erdogan and the AKP Fall Short, CRS Insights, June 16, 2015

Financing the U.S. Trade Deficit, updated June 11, 2015

Regular Vetoes and Pocket Vetoes: An Overview, updated June 9, 2015

Cuba: Issues for the 114th Congress, updated June 12, 2015

Fact Sheet: Selected Highlights of the FY2016 Defense Appropriations Bills (H.R. 2685 and S. 1558), June 16, 2015

War Funding and the Budget Control Act: In Brief, June 11, 2015

Train and Equip Program for Syria: Authorities, Funding, and Issues for Congress, updated June 9, 2015

U.S. Foreign Aid to Israel, updated June 10, 2015

Navy Ford (CVN-78) Class Aircraft Carrier Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 12, 2015

Navy Littoral Combat Ship (LCS)/Frigate Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated June 12, 2015

Intelligence Authorization Legislation for FY2016: Selected Provisions, CRS Insights, June 15, 2015

Invasive Species: Issues in Brief, May 22, 2015

Not everyone values the kind of policy analysis that CRS performs, particularly since CRS reports are even-handed to a fault, and they refrain from advocacy of specific outcomes. As such, they do not immediately advance any particular policy agenda.

In fact, the Congressional Research Service may be an institution in jeopardy. CRS “has lost about one-fifth of its staff since 1993,” according to the Center for American Progress. “The House and Senate legislative branch appropriations bills both cut CRS funding by 14.2 percent from its FY 2010 inflation-adjusted level.” See “Congress Makes Itself Dysfunctional with Legislative Branch Cuts” by Harry Stein and Ethan Gurwitz, June 15.

At the same time, and despite official congressional strictures on publication, CRS is playing an increasingly prominent role in informing the public on a wide range of policy issues. CRS reports are cited numerous times each day in national news stories— which often link to the reports on the Federation of American Scientists website or those of other non-congressional publishers.