Chairman Lankford, Ranking Member Murphy, and Members of the Committee:
Thank you for considering my written testimony. My name is Kevin Kosar, and I am vice president of policy for the R Street Institute, a free-market think tank here in Washington. I also co-direct the Legislative Branch Capacity Working Group, a bipartisan gathering of experts and congressional staff who meet monthly to discuss ways to reform Congress to meet the demands of the 21st century. Our aim, as we say, is to “Make Congress Great Again.”
I am here today to encourage the committee to make public access to Congressional Research Service reports more equitable. In short, lobbyists and other interested persons within the Beltway can get copies of CRS reports much more easily than the average member of the public. This is not fair, as it is the public whose tax dollars support CRS to the tune of $106 million per year.
Here I will make two brief points:
First, no harm can come of making the reports more equitably available to the public. I spent more than a decade working at CRS, as an analyst and a research manager. I love the agency, as do the 24 other former and retired CRS experts who signed an April 28, 2017 letter to you in support of broader public access to CRS reports. We have 570 years of collective experience working at CRS and we are convinced that this is the right thing to do. Forty groups on the left, right, and center also support more equitable public access—which makes CRS leadership’s lonely lobbying against reform look peculiar (attached).
Second, Congress always has made CRS reports available to the public, albeit in an ad hoc way. For example, CRS’ 1979 annual report (pp. 63-85) lists dozens of CRS documents publicly released as committee prints, as part of hearings, and in the Congressional Record (attached). When the internet arrived 20 years ago, Congress released even more CRS reports to the public. Committees, individual members, and various offices within the two chambers posted CRS reports online and emailed them to lobbyists, interest groups, and constituents. This explains why there are thousands of copies of CRS reports floating about the internet, scattered here and there.
To conclude, what I and other former CRS employees advocate is that Congress continue to publish the reports, but to do so more consistently. I think it makes most sense to have Government Publishing Office do it, since its job is to make authenticated government documents accessible to the public. GPO previously has published CRS reports, like the Evolving Congress, which came out late in 2014. As previously mentioned, GPO also has published CRS reports as parts of committee prints and hearings.