In Search of “Unfettered Access” to CRS Reports

04.07.11 | 2 min read | Text by Steven Aftergood

Members of the public enjoy unrestricted access to all reports of the Congressional Research Service, according to the Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington.

“Though CRS has no direct public mission, at present the public has unfettered access to the full inventory of CRS Reports for the Congress at no cost through the office of any Member or committee,” he wrote in an April 4 letter (pdf) to Amy Bennett of Openthegovernment.org.

Unfortunately, that assertion is quite wrong.  The public does not have access to the full inventory of CRS Reports. There is not even a public index of CRS reports that would enable people to request specific reports by title.

No Member of Congress or committee permits unfettered public access to all CRS Reports, which are produced and updated at a rate of perhaps a dozen a day, although individual reports will often be released upon specific request.  (Some CRS Reports are prepared confidentially for individual Members and those are not available to others under any circumstances, except when the Member chooses to release them.)

Still, Dr. Billington’s mistaken belief that the public already has “unfettered access” to the entire CRS database is a hopeful sign, because it tends to confirm that providing such access to non-confidential CRS Reports is a sensible and achievable goal.  Indeed, otherwise well-informed people like the Librarian of Congress assume that it must already be true.

Postponed: I will be participating in a panel discussion on “The Future of CRS” on Monday, April 11, sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation’s Advisory Committee on Transparency, which will address the issue of public access to CRS products and related issues. Update: This event has been postponed.