Congress Requires Publication of CRS Reports

03.26.18 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

All non-confidential reports of the Congressional Research Service must be made publicly available online through a Government Publishing Office website within 90 to 270 days under a provision of the 2018 omnibus appropriations act that was passed by Congress and signed by the President last week.

The move is the culmination of more than two decades of efforts to encourage, cajole or coerce Congress into making the reports broadly available to the public. (See “Liberating the Congressional Research Service,” Secrecy & Government Bulletin, March 1997.)

“Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are the gold standard when it comes to even-handed, non-partisan analysis of the important issues before Congress,” said Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, who led the most recent campaign for online public access. “For too long, they’ve only been primarily available to the well-connected and the well-heeled. At long last, Congress will make the non-confidential reports available to every American for free,” he said. See “Long-Proprietary Congressional Research Reports Will Now Be Made Public” by Charles S. Clark, Government Executive, March 23, 2018.

In fact, however, the large majority of CRS reports have already been posted online and are easily available to the public, though not through government websites. So the net increase in “transparency” resulting from the new legislation is less than it would have been years ago.

After President Trump claimed on Friday that the omnibus appropriations law will provide the largest military pay increase in over a decade, a New York Times fact-checking column cited a CRS report to demonstrate that the claim was “imprecise” and “slightly exaggerated.” See “Trump’s Objections Require Some Corrections” by Linda Qiu, March 23.

The Times article provided a link to an online copy of the January 2018 CRS report on military pay.