As a government information librarian, I know the value of reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS). They’re great publications for understanding public policy being discussed at the Federal level and because of that, FGI has been fighting hard to make those publications public. Steven Aftergood, from the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News project (which you’re reading everyday right?!), makes a critical point about the funding for this important research unit within the Library of Congress. He’s right of course that CRS — not to mention agencies like the US Census Bureau, GPO, Library of Congress and many others! — have faced a decade-long erosion of their budgets and been squeezed mercilessly by the political forces holding sway these days in DC. As Aftergood points out, it won’t matter if CRS reports are made public if it continues to be bled of its staff and budgets to do the research that Congress and the American public needs.
Most public controversy concerning the Congressional Research Service revolves around the question of whether Congress should authorize CRS to make its reports publicly available, or whether unauthorized access to CRS reports is a satisfactory alternative.
But a more urgent question is whether CRS itself will survive as a center of intellectual and analytical vitality. Already many of its most deeply knowledgeable and experienced specialists have been lost to retirement or attrition. And recurring budget shortfalls are taking a toll, say congressional supporters.
“According to CRS, recent funding levels have led to a loss of 13 percent of its purchasing power since 2010. The $1 million increase [proposed in the House version of the FY2017 Legislative Appropriations Act] will not even cover mandatory pay for CRS’ current staff,” wrote Reps. Nita Lowey and Debbie Wasserman Schultz in dissenting views attached to the House Appropriations Committee report on the FY 2017 bill.
“CRS’s [FY2017] budget request sought to rebuild the agency. They asked for two defense policy staff, five health policy staff, three education policy staff, two budget/appropriations staff, four technology policy staff, and two data management and analysis staff. None of those staff would be funded under the current bill, depriving Congress of a non-biased analysis of these critical policy areas,” Reps. Lowey and Wasserman Schultz wrote.
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