from the FAS Project on Government Secrecy
Volume 2015, Issue No. 42
June 17, 2015
Secrecy News Blog: http://fas.org/blogs/secrecy/
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.
HOUSE ADOPTS INTEL BILL, SENATE AFFIRMS TORTURE BAN
The House of Representatives yesterday approved its version of the FY 2016 intelligence authorization act (HR 2596).
The bill includes "several" new reporting requirements intended "to enhance Congress' role in and understanding of the classification process," said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA). One of these requirements is for a report to Congress noting each occasion in the past 5 years in which non-compartmented intelligence reporting has been disseminated through a (more restrictive) compartmented channel.
The bill passed by the House preserves a proposed new restriction on the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board barring its access to covert action information. The Washington Post reported last week that the restriction was prompted by an op-ed written by the Board chairman suggesting that the Board might be able to assist in oversight of covert targeted killing operations.
Also yesterday, the Senate voted 78-21 to affirm a ban on torture and to limit the use of interrogation techniques to those that are included in Army Field Manual 2-22.3 (Appendix M). The measure was sponsored by Senators McCain and Feinstein.
"Current law already bans torture, as well as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," Sen. McCain noted.
"However," he said, "this amendment is still necessary because [after 9/11, so-called 'enhanced'] interrogation techniques were able to be used, which were based on a deeply flawed legal theory, and those techniques, it was said, did not constitute 'torture' or 'cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment.' These legal opinions could be written again." The amendment is intended to preclude that possibility.
"I ask my colleagues to support this amendment," Sen. Feinstein said, "and by doing so, we can recommit ourselves to the fundamental precept that the United States does not torture--without exception and without equivocation--and ensure that the mistakes of our past are never again repeated in the future."
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who opposed the amendment, said "the effect of this policy is to hand our entire interrogation playbook to groups such as the self-declared Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, 'ISIL,'' Al Qaeda, and the Taliban, which is a profound mistake."
Secrecy News is written by Steven Aftergood and published by the Federation of American Scientists.
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