Reviving the role of CRS in congressional oversight
The Congressional Research Service once played a prominent role in supporting oversight by congressional committees. Although that support has diminished sharply in recent years, it could conceivably be restored in a new Congress, writes former CRS analyst Kevin R. Kosar in a new paper.
In the past, CRS “closely assisted Congress in a myriad of major oversight efforts, including the Watergate investigation, the implementation of the Freedom of Information Act, and the Iran-Contra affair.”
But over time, Kosar writes, “CRS’ role in oversight declined due to various factors, most of which were out of its control. Congress changed. Congressional committees, particularly in the House of Representatives, lost capacity, and hyper-partisanism turned much oversight into political point-scoring rather than an exercise in governing that required expert assistance.”
See “The Atrophying of the Congressional Research Service’s Role in Supporting Committee Oversight” by Kevin R. Kosar, Wayne Law Review, vol. 64:149, 2018.
“CRS does not have to passively accept this fate,” said Kosar by email. His paper suggested various steps CRS could take to foster greater appreciation among committee leaders for the independent expertise CRS could provide.
CRS’s “raison d’être is to educate Congress, and it can engage its oversight and appropriations committees in a dialogue about the value of analysis and in-depth research. It can raise the issue of more extended oversight engagements and explain why they are valuable to Congress.”
“It is good for Congress, good for CRS staff, and good for the public to have nonpartisan experts more frequently and more deeply engaged in oversight,” he wrote.