Man, this week is Sunshine-week-alicious! The Sunlight Foundation has long advocated for -- along with FGI, library- and open govt organizations -- the free public access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. CRS Reports are commonly not available to the public as CRS has this arcane and outdated rule that CRS reports are privileged communication between Congress and CRS. But CRS reports ARE available randomly online and Proquest, Penny Hill Press and other commercial publishers have long published them for a fee (I've even heard that CRS subscribes to Proquest to get access to their own reports historically!).
But this all may change. According to the Sunlight Blog, Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) have reintroduced the bipartisan House Resolution 110 "Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2013" (text not received by GPO yet so not publicly available on Thomas). The Resolution would direct the Clerk of the House of Representatives to provide members of the public with Internet access to certain Congressional Research Service publications. Easy-peasy right?!
More than 30 organizations -- including Sunlight Foundation and FGI -- have signed on to a letter supporting the resolution. Please consider contacting your Representative and ask them to support H.Res. 110!
Steven Aftergood comments on the recent withdrawal from the CRS internal website of a Congressional Research Service report, Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945, by Thomas L. Hungerford, Specialist in Public Finance, Congressional Research Service, report R42729 (September 14, 2012).
- Some Comments on the “Withdrawal” of a CRS Report, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (November 5th, 2012).
But "withdrawn" here means withdrawn from the internal congressional website. CRS could not withdraw the report from public circulation because it never made the report publicly available. In fact, as things stand, the "withdrawn" CRS report is now more widely accessible than the large majority of other CRS products. Not only did the New York Times post it online, it is available on the congressional website of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, as well as through FAS and elsewhere.
But neither congressional Republicans who were angered by the report nor Democrats who were offended by its withdrawal have seen fit to provide public access online to thousands of other CRS reports, which are effectively suppressed without being withdrawn.
Today, the NY Times published an article "Nonpartisan Tax Report Withdrawn After G.O.P. Protest" which points to the increasing politicization of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the non-partisan think tank of the US Congress.
The CRS report, by researcher Thomas Hungerford, concluded:
The results of the analysis suggest that changes over the past 65 years in the top marginal tax rate and the top capital gains tax rate do not appear correlated with economic growth. The reduction in the top tax rates appears to be uncorrelated with saving, investment, and productivity growth. The top tax rates appear to have little or no relation to the size of the economic pie.
However, the top tax rate reductions appear to be associated with the increasing concentration of income at the top of the income distribution. As measured by IRS data, the share of income accruing to the top 0.1% of U.S. families increased from 4.2% in 1945 to 12.3% by 2007 before falling to 9.2% due to the 2007-2009 recession. At the same time, the average tax rate paid by the top 0.1% fell from over 50% in 1945 to about 25% in 2009. Tax policy could have a relation to how the economic pie is sliced—lower top tax rates may be associated with greater income disparities.
Huffington Post interviewed Mr Hungerford, who stood by the report:
"Basically, the decision to take it down, I think The New York Times article basically got it right, that it was pressure from the Senate minority to take it down," Hungerford said. "CRS reports go through many layers of review before they're issued and as far as the tone and the conclusions go, people who specifically look at the writing and the tone said it was okay. So it's not going to be that and as I can tell you outright, I stand by the report and the analysis in the report."
To the NY Times' credit, they posted a copy of the report in their story. We're hosting a copy on FGI servers for your convenience.
More from the NY Times:
The Congressional Research Service has withdrawn an economic report that found no correlation between top tax rates and economic growth, a central tenet of conservative economy theory, after Senate Republicans raised concerns about the paper’s findings and wording.
The decision, made in late September against the advice of the agency’s economic team leadership, drew almost no notice at the time. Senator Charles E. Schumer, Democrat of New York, cited the study a week and a half after it was withdrawn in a speech on tax policy at the National Press Club.
But it could actually draw new attention to the report, which questions the premise that lowering the top marginal tax rate stimulates economic growth and job creation.
“This has hues of a banana republic,” Mr. Schumer said. “They didn’t like a report, and instead of rebutting it, they had them take it down.”
Republicans did not say whether they had asked the research service, a nonpartisan arm of the Library of Congress, to take the report out of circulation, but they were clear that they protested its tone and findings.
Don Stewart, a spokesman for the Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, said Mr. McConnell and other senators “raised concerns about the methodology and other flaws.” Mr. Stewart added that people outside of Congress had also criticized the study and that officials at the research service “decided, on their own, to pull the study pending further review.”
We have had a chance to review the new Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report Federal Depository Library Program: Issues for Congress (Petersen) available at from the Federation of American Scientists, Project On Government Secrecy web site.
While we believe it serves as a useful overview of the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), the report has a few significant problems. Members of Congress should consider the following before using this report as a basis for modifying the FDLP:
Report appears to take Ithaka S+R report at face value
Pages 6-11 of the CRS report concern the findings of the Government Printing Office (GPO) commissioned Ithaka S+R FDLP Report (Housewright) and GPO's ultimate rejection of the report. We are concerned that CRS has taken Ithaka's conclusions at face value and have not considered the many criticisms of the Ithaka report. Some of these criticisms included:
- The report made broad statements about users without sufficient consultation with actual end users.
- The report focused on the value of the program to libraries and not to users.
- The report apparently ignored corrections from law librarians and others so that errors in draft documents carried over to final documents.
- The report excluded serious discussion of digital deposit and local digital collections of federal information.
- The report failed to account for risks of implementing its recommendations.
We wrote extensively during the Ithaka S+R report period. We were not alone. A complete set of comments that Ithaka S+R received on its project web site is available from GPO. Yet the CRS report authors do not appear to have considered the public comments that questioned a number of Ithaka S+R's findings.
Another curiosity is CRS's omission of GPO's reasoning for rejecting the Ithaka S+R report. The authors simply note that "GPO did not provide a detailed, publicly available explication of its decision." It seems to us that it would have been appropriate and useful for CRS to have contacted Superintendent of Documents (SuDoc) Mary Alice Baish and interviewed her about GPO's rejection of the Ithaka S+R report. In doing so, CRS could have expanded the existing public record with more details from GPO as to why the report was unacceptable and given the report an additional depth of understanding. Given the GPO rejection of the Ithaka S+R report and the amount of criticism of the report from the library community, CRS's reliance on the report results in a description of the FDLP that is both limited and slanted.
Threats to access to digital government information
Pages 13-14 of the CRS report address "Access to Digital Government Information." The section concludes with the following:
The use of the FDLP Electronic Collection may raise the following concerns in the context of digital information:
- Where do FDLP Electronic Collection data reside?
- Are current data management protocols sufficient to ensure no loss of data availability, and assured access?
- Are those protocols similar in GPO, other federal agencies, and non governmental partners that provide content?
- What backup, and information distribution and assurance policies, are in place?
Although these are legitimate questions, CRS left out bigger problems within which these questions are merely details of implementation. These bigger problems stem from the GPO-centric model of the FDLP in which GPO has usurped from libraries the roles of both preservation and access. By replacing libraries, GPO has endangered the long-term future of information preservation and free-public access to that information in many ways. Three of the most important of those are, uncurated access, the term we call "silent withdrawals," and the very real potential of inadequate funding of GPO along with the complementary danger of replacing of free access with fee-based access.
Access to government information has been a key tenet of the FDLP for 200 years. CRS averred that fact when they stated, "emergence of digital delivery of government information outside the FDLP program may offer increased access to government information to those who might not be able to visit depository libraries." But the key point missed by CRS is the idea of uncurated access. By only discussing access, but not preservation, CRS ignores the processes carried out by depository institutions to *preserve* govt information. We have said many times on FGI that access today does not equal access in the long-term. Libraries have begun to put processes in place to assure long-term digital access (University of North Texas Digital Library, LOCKSS-USDOCS, Archive-it collections, End-of-term crawls etc). Librarians can and should continue their curatorial responsibilities in the digital realm. We can't expect GPO and other government agencies -- especially in this budget crisis climate -- to have the long-term vision necessary to assure long-term preservation. Curation and content control will be key issues going forward. These issues were merely glossed over by the report.
One of the many strengths of a distributed depository system is the way its very structure protects information from intentional or unintentional loss, censorship, or erasure. Without this protection, information can too easily be withdrawn "silently" -- that is, without public announcement or review. That FDLP works is evident when one compares information in the depository system to information not in the depository system. The number of documents that have been sent to depository libraries and later withdrawn is relatively small and the reasons for the recalls are usually not controversial.
- Federal publications recalled from libraries. (1981-2010). Stanford University Library.
Contrast this to information that has been withdrawn from the web, reclassified by agencies, and documents that have had open access restricted by agencies after their release:
- Less Access to Less Information By and About the U.S. Government (1981-1998).
- Chronology of Disappearing Government Information (1998-2002), Compiled by Barbara Miller for ALA/GODORT Education Committee With special assistance of Karrie Peterson.
- No URL Left Behind? Web Scrub Raises Concerns, by Michelle R. Davis, Education Week, 22:3 (9/18/2002), 1-2.
- Homefront Confidential. Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, Sixth edition (September 2005)
- The Age of Missing Information. By Steven Aftergood, Slate (March 17, 2005).
- Army Blocks Public Access to Digital Library, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (February 13th, 2008).
- DOD withdraws embarrassing report, FreeGovInfo (2009-05-13).
- Secrecy Report 2011. OpenTheGovernment.org.
The reason for the success of the depository system is that it has checks and balances and procedures that must be followed when an agency wishes to withdraw a publication ("ID 72" GPO 2005). In the world of physical deposit of print documents, withdrawal of a previously deposited document requires the compliance of tens or even hundres of libraries that actually have physical possession and control of copies. While depository librarians have a legal obligation to comply with withdrawal and destroy orders, there have been cases where this step triggered complaints about unreasonable withdrawal requests. Such questioning has led agencies to withdraw requests that seemed based on embarrassment or paranoia rather than error or true security needs.
One noteworthy example of this comes from 2001 when the CIA put pressure on the Department of State to destroy already-printed volumes of the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1964-1968, V. 16, Cyprus, Greece, and Turkey. But those volumes were in the possession of GPO and slated for deposit with FDLP libraries (Aftergood). The volumes were not destroyed and were distributed (S 1.1:964-68/v.16).
Another example comes from 2004 when the Justice Department demanded that depositories destroy copies of five publications that dealt with, among other things, how citizens can retrieve items confiscated by the government. The American Library Association objected, the Justice department rescinded its order, and GPO allowed libraries to keep copies and also replaced copies already destroyed. (Lee)
GPO's policy does have good procedures to prevent "silent withdrawals" even of information that is not physically deposited with libraries. But when GPO does not deposit digital copies with libraries, depositories are cut out of the procedures and an important safeguard is missing. Withdrawal decisions and their execution stay wholly within the federal government -- making it easier for the government to remove items from public access. The "LOCKSS-USDocs" private LOCKSS network project is beginning to replace this safeguard, but more work is needed to ensure digital deposit with more libraries in order to guard against silent withdrawals.
The current GPO-centric model of digital access described, and apparently unquestioned, by CRS has a single point of failure. If Congress decides it is no longer worthwhile to adequately fund information dissemination in general or GPO in particular, users and libraries will lose access to material unique to GPO's servers. Even the maintenance of so-called "persistent" URLs (PURLs) could be endangered by something as simple as inadequate funding.
Digital information requires long-term, consistent funding. Neither digital information preservation nor access can be accomplished passively: both require constant attention and renewal and resources. Even budget cutbacks can cause loss of information or loss of access to information. The single-point-of-failure GPO-centric model of preservation and access is a system in which even inadequate funding means loss of information.
Reduced funding can also lead to privatization of government information access. This can occur if the fee-based private-sector takes over the delivery of services that GPO drops because of inadequate funding. It can also occur if Congress mandates that GPO use a fee-for-service model. In both cases, free access will be lost and people and libraries may be unable to afford adequate access. (Jacobs)
An April 10, 2012 Federal Times demonstrates that GPO is already feeling a lot of pain:
At risk of needing a congressional bailout 18 months ago, the Government Printing Office slashed its workforce, cut employee benefits, rented out excess office space and took other steps to stabilize its finances.
To make ends meet, GPO is also focusing on money-making activities like making secure credentials for the FBI. At its heart, the FDLP is a cost center. It has no opportunity to make GPO profit. This is right and proper, but will continue to make the FDLP a tempting target in future budget reductions. (Jacobs)
Any discussion of disruptions in user access needs to acknowledge the above facts. As long as digital storage is centralized in GPO, free and permanent access is only a Congressional Act away from being disable or terminated. The report does ask a key question: what solutions might create a more robust FDLP that is better equipped to meet the demands of providing government information to American citizens." We at FGI and many allies in the FDLP community have been working on that question (see Letter to Deputy CTO Noveck: "Open Government Publications," Rethinking the Cloud, and Achieving a collaborative FDLP future to contextualize the issues involved).
The report written by Petersen, Manning and Bailey provides a useful historic overview of the FDLP. We feel that it somewhat mischaracterizes recent efforts at building consensus. Most seriously, the report leaves out major barriers to free, permanant public access to government information that MUST be addressed in any meaningful reform effort.
- Aftergood, Steven. State Dept Mulls "Book Burning." Secrecy News (September 21, 2001)
- Housewright, Ross, and Roger C. Schonfeld. Modeling a Sustainable Future for the United States Federal Depository Library Program’s Network of Libraries in the 21st Century, Final Report of Ithaka S+R to the Government Printing Office, Ithaka S+R, May 16, 2011, Including "Statement from the U.S. Government Printing Office" by Mary Alice Baish (August 5, 2011)
- Jacobs, James A. Privatization of GPO, Defunding of FDsys, and the Future of the FDLP, FreeGovInfo (2011-08-11).
- Lee, Christopher. Justice Dept. Rescinds Order to Pull Publications.
Washington Post (August 5, 2004) page A17.
- Lipowicz, Alice. Digital information may strain GPO and library system, CRS says, Federal Computer Week(Apr 11, 2012)
- Petersen, R. Eric, Jennifer E. Manning, and Christina M. Bailey. Federal Depository Library Program: Issues for Congress by Petersen, Congressional Research Service CRS Report R42457 (March 29, 2012)
- Reilly, Sean. Cost-cutting saves GPO from financial crisis, chief says. Federal Times, (4/10/2012).
- Replacement copies of five DOJ documents for depositories that had removed them. Judith C. Russell, Superintendent of Documents (August 5, 2004)
- U.S. Government Printing Office. Managing Director, Information Dissemination, Superintendent of Documents. Information Dissemination Policy Statement 72 (ID 72). "Withdrawal of Federal Information Products from GPO’s Information Dissemination (ID) Programs." Effective Date: June 21, 2005, Supersedes No.: SOD 72 Dated: 07/22/02.
- LOCKSS-USDOCS private LOCKSS network: The Digital Federal Depository Library Program.
The United Nations and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) recently released the World e-Parliament Report 2010. The Report, prepared by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, is based on the results of the Global Survey of ICT in Parliaments conducted by the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament between July and November 2009, to which 134 parliamentary assemblies responded.
The 134 parliaments were surveyed on a number of issues, including whether or not they make the work of their parliamentary research services available to the public. Daniel Schuman, Policy Counsel for the Sunlight Foundation, contacted one of the report's authors, and asked for the underlying data on which countries make their CRS-like reports publicly available. Although they could not share that specific data, they told Daniel how many countries made those reports available.
Answers to Daniel's questions were provided in an email from the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament, for which Daniel had permission to make public. Here are the highlights:
With regard to parliamentary chambers within members of the G-20:
- Parliamentary chambers in 16 of the 20 members of the G-20 responded to the 2009 survey. Because the European Union is a member of the G-20, the European Parliament is included in this group of 16. The names of all parliaments and chambers that participated in the 2009 survey can be found on page 5 of the Report.
- Parliamentary chambers in 4 of the G-20 members did not participate in the survey.
- Parliamentary chambers in 13 of the 16 G-20 members who responded to the survey reported that they did have subject matter experts on public policy issues who provide research and analysis for members and committees.
- Parliamentary chambers in 3 of the G-20 members reported that they did not have subject matter experts on public policy issues who provide research and analysis for members and committees.
- Parliamentary chambers in 11 of the 13 G-20 members who reported that they did have subject matter experts on public policy issues also reported that they make the results of that research and analysis available to the public. This represents 85% of the G-20 members whose chambers have subject matter experts (11/13).
- A number of the parliaments among the 13 who have subject matter experts are bi-cameral. These 13 therefore include a total of 19 separate chambers. Of these, 16 (84%) have subject matter experts whose work is made available to the public (16/19).
- NOTE: the Global Centre for ICT in Parliament has assured all participants of the confidentiality of their responses to the survey and that the names of individual chambers have not been provided in this correspondence.
Thought this might be interesting and helpful. Thanks Daniel for sharing this information.
Sunshine advocates say Congressional Research Service reports should be posted online, By Joseph Marks, NextGov (05/09/2011).
Speaking at a panel discussion on the Future of the Congressional Research Service (CRS), sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, Mike Stern, a former House senior counsel, said that the legal justification for long-standing statutory language prohibiting CRS from making its reports available outside the halls of Congress has been effectively superseded by the Internet Age.
Project on Government Secrecy Director Steve Aftergood told Nextgov Monday that putting nonconfidential CRS reports online wouldn't just increase government transparency, but also might press CRS analysts to take advantage of hyperlinks, Web graphics, embedded video and other innovative Web-based features.
"I think they haven't quite figured out how to cope with the Internet Age," Aftergood said of the organization referred to as Congress' think tank. "In many respects they're really stuck in the 1990s."
The panels' moderator, Daniel Schuman, noted that the CRS 2009 annual report described a pilot program that would allow some congressional committees to automatically post CRS reports containing certain search terms on their websites, but that the plan did was not adopted and the report has since been removed from the CRS website.
The entire 1.5 hour panel can be seen at http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/ResearchS
It looks like CSPAN will be broadcasting and webcasting today's meeting to discuss the future of the Congressional Research Service, May 9, from 2-3:30 pm (EDT).
streaming live link:
link to archived version after the event is over (including a transcript):
Steve Aftergood -- senior research analyst, the Federation of American Scientists, and director, FAS Project on Government Secrecy.
Stan Brand -- founder, the Brand Law Group; General Counsel, U.S. House of Representatives (1976-1983)
Robyn Russell -- legislative assistant, Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL)
Nye Stevens -- deputy director, Government and Finance Division, Congressional Research Service (2000-2006); director, Federal Management and Workforce Issues, U.S. Government Accountability Office (1982-2000); director, Organization and Special Projects Division, U.S. Office of Management and Budget (1977-1982)
Moderator: Daniel Schuman -- policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency, Sunlight Foundation; attorney, American Law Division, Congressional Research Service (2006-2007)
Hat tip to Gary for updated information!
I guess this is a big CRS news day! Huffington Post reported on 4/26 that a newly released Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report requested by Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) found that the nation’s largest banks profited off the federal government’s bailout programs by borrowing cash for next to nothing, then lending it back to the federal government at substantially higher rates. The report has been posted at Sanders' Web site (PDF).
A newly-released study from the Congressional Research Service bolsters claims that the nation's largest banks profited off the Federal Reserve's financial crisis-era programs by borrowing cash for next to nothing, then lending it back to the federal government at substantially higher rates.
The report reinforces long-held beliefs that the banking system in essence engaged in taxpayer-financed arbitrage: They got money for free, then lent it back to Uncle Sam while collecting juicy returns. Left out of the equation are the millions of everyday borrowers, like households and small businesses, who were unable to secure loans needed to tide them over until the crisis ended.
The Fed released records under pressure in December and March that showed the extent of its largesse. The CRS study shows for the first time how some of the most sophisticated financial firms could have taken the Fed's money and flipped easy profits simply by lending it back to another arm of the government.
CRS Report Withheld By USTR Confirms That ACTA Language Is Quite Questionable, by Mike Masnick, TechDirt, April 26, 2011.
We're happy to announce that we've been able to get our hands on the -- until now -- secret Congressional Research Service analysis of ACTA.... [I]t shows that the language used by the USTR in ACTA has lots of weasel words that let them claim it doesn't impact US law, but the interpretations of the language could very much impact US law.
"...The Committee concludes that Congress intended to retain control over this document and that it is not an agency record subject to FOIA."
"Potential Implications For Federal Law Raised By The October 2010 Draft Of The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement - ACTA" CRS Memorandum To Honorable Ron Wyden From Brian T. Yeh, Legislative Attorney, American Law Division, 7-5182 October 29, 2010 7-5700 Redacted.
Librarian of Congress Dr. James H. Billington said, "The public has unfettered access to the full inventory of CRS Reports for the Congress at no cost through the office of any Member or committee.” As Steven Aftergood points out, "that assertion is quite wrong.... There is not even a public index of CRS reports that would enable people to request specific reports by title."
And yet, Aftergood continues, the Librarian's statement "tends to confirm that providing such access to non-confidential CRS Reports is a sensible and achievable goal. Indeed, otherwise well-informed people like the Librarian of Congress assume that it must already be true."
- In Search of "Unfettered Access" to CRS Reports, by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (April 7th, 2011).