According to one assessment, some 27,000 copies of Congressional Research Service reports are scattered about the Internet. However, there is no one website where the public can find the agency’s reports. Thanks to a Mad Men-era policy, CRS is not allowed to share its reports with anyone but Congress.

But new legislation introduced yesterday would expand public access to CRS reports by having the Government Publishing Office put the reports online. It is a task GPO is well-equipped to perform. Just last year, the GPO published, at congressional direction, a 500-page compendium of CRS reports called “The Evolving Congress.” Moreover, the office publishes thousands of documents online each year, which also are made available to the public via 1,200 federal depository libraries.

The new bill is called The Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016, introduced as bipartisan legislation both in the Senate (by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.) and in the House (by Reps. Leonard Lance, R-N.J, and Mike Quigley, D-Ill.).

“It’s time to allow the American people to access the same neutral, unbiased, nonpartisan information that we in Congress rely on every day,” said Rep. Quigley. “Opening CRS to the public would empower our constituents with vital information about the key issues, policies, and budgets we’re debating here in Congress, increasing government transparency and giving the public the tools they need to hold their government accountable.”

It is a change long overdue. Other legislative branch agencies, like the Government Accountability Office and Congressional Budget Office, make their studies for Congress publicly available. So too does the Library of Congress’ Law Library, which issues reports on sensitive matters, such as immigration and gun control. The current policy also creates a gross disparity in information access. Beltway insiders purchase pricy subscriptions to the reports or wrangle them from Capitol Hill staff. The rest of America, meanwhile, hardly knows the reports exist, let alone where to get them. This is unfair.

CRS reports are highly regarded among policymakers. They provide nonpartisan descriptions and assessments of government agencies and programs. Many journalists use them to bone up on complex topics. Recent CRS reports have considered issues that might arise with an eight-member Supreme Court, a Department of Defense proposal to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and senators’ official personnel and office-expense accounts, according to Secrecy News, which long has shared the agencies’ reports with the public.

Whether Congress will get the bill enacted before it departs for summer break is unclear. But the odds may be good. In a politically polarized time, making CRS reports public is the rare policy on which the left and right are in agreement. Letters of support for expanded access have been signed by conservative, free-market and taxpayer-watchdog organizations, as well as liberal groups, along with government-transparency advocates and librarians. Retired CRS employees also have voiced their support. Former Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., a longtime advocate for the change, has put it succinctly: making CRS reports more available to the public “is motherhood and apple pie…Just do it.”

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