Dear Chairman Yoder, Ranking Member Ryan and Members of the Committee:
On behalf of 25 former employees of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) with a collective 570 years of service with the agency, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. We are in strong support of timely, comprehensive free public access to CRS reports. In doing so, we distinguish between CRS reports, which are nonconfidential and other CRS products, such as memoranda, which are confidential.
CRS plays a vital role in our legislative process by informing lawmakers and staff about important policy issues. To that end, nothing should impair CRS’s ability to provide confidential support to members of Congress, such as through briefings and confidential memoranda. Nor should Congress take any steps to weaken the Constitutionally-protected status of CRS’s work product. In contrast, CRS reports are widely available on Capitol Hill to staff and lobbyists alike, are released with no expectation of confidentiality, and could be of immense value to the general public.
Longstanding congressional policy allows members and committees to distribute CRS products to the public, which they do in a variety of ways. In addition, CRS provides reports upon request to the judicial branch, to journalists and to the executive branch, which often publishes them on agency websites. Insiders with relationships to congressional staff can easily obtain the reports, and well-resourced groups pay for access from third-party subscription services. Members of the public, however, can freely access only a subset of CRS reports, usually via third parties.
It is difficult for the public to know the scope of CRS products they could obtain from Congress. A Google search returned over 27,000 products including 4,260 hosted on .gov domains, but there is no way to know if those documents are up-to-date, whether the search is comprehensive, or when the documents might disappear from view.
We believe Congress should provide a central online source for timely public access to CRS reports. That would place all members of the public on an equal footing to one another with respect to access. It would resolve concerns around public and congressional use of the most up-to-date version. Additionally, it would ensure the public can verify it is using an authentic version. And it would diminish requests to analysts to provide a copy of the most recent report. Other legislative support agencies, i.e., the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office, publish nonconfidential reports on their websites as a matter of course. Doing so does not appear to harm their ability to perform their mission for Congress.
Thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts on implementing full public access to nonconfidential CRS reports.