Does CRS Need to “Recalibrate Its Objectivity”?

03.16.18 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Last year, the Congressional Research Service generated more than 1,100 new products and and updated 2,100 others, according to a new CRS annual report to Congress.

The annual report describes the Service’s structure, operation, recent activities and new initiatives. It scarcely mentions thorny issues such as the adequacy of the CRS budget, or the challenges posed by the retirement of senior analysts. It does not address the question of providing broad public access to CRS reports at all.

But it does include a useful listing of all new and updated CRS products from the past year, covering an impressive range of issues (in Appendix F).

See CRS Annual Report, Fiscal Year 2017, January 2018 (published March 2018).

Recently, a group of current and former CRS analysts wrote to CRS director Mary Mazanec and Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden to raise questions about CRS’s “approach to objectivity and saliency in today’s political environment.”

Objectivity is not the same as neutrality or refusal to express a conclusion, they argued.

“We are concerned that CRS risks falling short of its mission if it holds back the independent analysis that Congress has directed us to provide. Sparking our concern, CRS has appeared to avoid reaching conclusions in some topic areas with high potential for political controversy. In some such topic areas, CRS operates as a neutral compiler of facts and opinions, with little of the expert analysis, appraisal, and evaluation of their credibility that Congress requires. CRS also seems to have avoided a few topics or facets of topics almost entirely,” the current and former CRS authors wrote in January 12 letter.

In short, they suggested, CRS needs to “recalibrate its objectivity practices.”

Some new and updated CRS reports this week include the following.

Arming Teachers as a Response to School ShootingsCRS Insight, March 13, 2018

Can the Government Prohibit 18-Year-Olds from Purchasing Firearms?CRS Legal Sidebar, March 13, 2018

The President Acts to Impose Tariffs on Steel and Aluminum ImportsCRS Insight, March 13, 2018

Organization of American States: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 14, 2018

Northern Ireland, Brexit, and the Irish BorderCRS Insight, March 12, 2018

Russia’s 2018 Presidential ElectionCRS Insight, March 13, 2018

Navy Columbia (SSBN-826) Class Ballistic Missile Submarine Program: Background and Issues for Congress, updated March 13, 2018