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38 groups ask LoC for free public access to CRS reports

Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports are incredibly rich sources for budget-related information, and analyses of domestic social policy, foreign Affairs, defense and trade, and science and industry. But for many years, CRS has not provided direct public access to its reports, requiring citizens to request them from their Members of Congress — and libraries to purchase them from Penny Hill Press, LexisNexis and other private publishers.

With CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan retiring in April, 2011, this was an opportune time for 38 open government groups — including FGI! — to send a letter to Librarian of Congress James Billington asking him to appoint a new CRS Director who will facilitate free public online access to CRS reports.

Here’s the letter (PDF also available from OpenTheGovernment):


February 25, 2010
James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Dear Dr. Billington:

We the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability are writing to urge you to appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who will work with Congress to provide online free public access to the unclassified, non-confidential, taxpayer-funded reports produced by CRS.

The public needs access to these non-confidential CRS reports in order to discharge their civic duties. American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. But while the reports are non-classified, and play a critical role in our legislative process, they have never been made available in a consistent and official way to members of the public.

Predictably, to fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell copies of these reports at a price. This means that non-confidential CRS reports are readily available to lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people lack the information necessary to even request reports from their Members of Congress.

In 1822, James Madison explained why citizens must have government information: “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.” In the spirit of Madison, we ask you to appoint a Director of CRS who will help advance the goal of online free public access to CRS reports.

Representatives from the undersigned organizations would be happy to meet with you or your staff at any time to discuss this important issue. Please contact Amy Bennett, Program Associate, OpenTheGovernment.org (afuller@openthegovernment.org“>afuller@openthegovernment.org or 202-332-6736), at your convenience.

Sincerely,

AhEeCOSH
American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
CAUS
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Defending Dissent Foundation
DownsizeDC.org, Inc.
Essential Information
Federation of American Scientists
Free Government Information
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
iSolon.org
Knowledge Ecology International
Liberty Coalition
MapLight.org
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Security Counselors
No More Guantanamos
OMB Watch
OpenTheGovernment.org
Point of Order
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Citizen
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
RS&S INTERNATIONAL, LLC
Society of Academic Law Library Directors
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Sunlight Foundation
University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center
Washington Coalition for Open Government

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