After nearly 20 years of advocacy by ALA, Congress has recently taken significant steps toward permanently assuring free public access to reports by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Taxpayers fund these reports but generally have not been able to read them. ALA welcomes these moves to ensure the public can use these valuable aids to understanding public policy issues.
What are CRS Reports?
CRS is an agency, housed within the Library of Congress, that prepares public policy research for members of Congress. All members of Congress and their staffs have immediate access to these reports on topics ranging from avocado growing to zinc mining.
Political insiders know that these reports, produced by the nonpartisan expert staff at CRS, are excellent sources of information about nearly every conceivable public policy topic. But CRS reports have not been routinely published, and so they have only been accessible to those with a connection on Capitol Hill or through an unofficial third-party source.
ALA’s Calls for Public Access
ALA has long called for public access to CRS reports. ALA’s Council adopted a resolution on the topic in 1998, shortly before Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then-Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.) introduced the first legislation to post CRS reports online for public access. We have continued to advocate on the issue over the years, most recently by supporting the latest iteration of that legislation, the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act.
Both House and Senate appropriators have recently approved language to provide public access to CRS reports. Because appropriations are needed to fund the government, these are considered must-pass bills.
In the Senate, S. 1648 includes the language of the Equal Access to CRS Reports Act. In the House, similar provisions were included in H. Rept. 115-199: the report accompanying H.R. 3162 (which in turn was compiled into H.R. 3219).
Four key steps remain before we and our allies can declare victory in our nearly 20-year effort to provide public access to CRS reports:
- The House and Senate have to reconcile the (relatively minor) differences between their language on this issue.
- The provision has to survive any attempts to weaken or remove the language on the floor of the House or Senate when a reconciled bill or Report is considered;
- Both houses of Congress have to pass an identical bill; and
- The President has to sign it.
These are significant “ifs.” But, because these appropriations bills are necessary to keep the government open, there’s a real chance it will get done. Until then, ALA will continue to speak up for the public’s right to access this useful information.