Did you know the Congressional Research Service has published reports on the federal defense budget, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits, changes to hemp-growing restrictions and porcine epidemic diarrhea virus? Now you do, thanks to the R Street Institute’s Governance Project.
Using the Scribd digital library service, we have published 20 years of CRS annual reports online, including lists of the reports published by the agency. The report lists are available for viewing and downloading here.
Congressional Research Service reports are considered the gold standard for honesty and objectivity in Washington. Sadly, Congress to date has refused to make the reports generally available to the public. Why this six-decade-old policy persists is difficult to explain. The reports do not contain any classified or secret information and their contents come from publicly available sources. At the same time, members of Congress are happy to give copies to any citizen who asks, which explains why there are thousands of copies of CRS reports floating around on the Internet.
Which presents a conundrum: You, John and Jane Q. Public, may request copies of the reports. But Congress will not tell you which reports exist. Apparently, you are supposed to guess. Last year, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., tried to fix this ludicrous situation via legislation. His sane proposal to publish a list of CRS reports was quashed.
The CRS is a $100 million agency within the Library of Congress. Its apolitical civil servants write 1,000 or more reports each year. CRS reports cover public-policy issues large and small: government operations, federal spending and the machinations of Congress. Often the agency’s reports are the only material written on a particular topic (like post office closures).
Congress currently is considering legislation that would have the Government Publishing Office put all CRS reports online. Despite broad support from librarians, taxpayer and transparency advocates and even retired CRS employees, the fate of the bill is unclear.
In the meantime, members of the public can use the R Street Institute’s collection to learn what CRS is publishing and locate copies via Googling the titles or by contacting their members of Congress.