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Great news! New Bill calls for CRS reports to be publicly available

This is great news indeed! The Sunlight Foundation reported today that the “Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2012” (aka H. Res 727) has just been introduced by Representatives Quigley (D-IL) and Lance (R-NJ) — many thanks to both of them.

The resolution would ensure that reports by Congress’s $100 million-a-year think tank will become available to the public on a website maintained by the House Clerk. Numerous good government groups and advocates for more congressional transparency — including FGI! — have endorsed the measure. Please contact your Representative and ask them to vote HELL YEAH! on H. Res 727.

The reports, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, are frequently cited by the courts and the media and requested by members of the public, but CRS does not release them to the public. Instead, they come to widespread attention after they are released in dribs and drabs by Congressional offices and painstakingly collected by researchers. Some are collected and sold for $20 a copy, while others are made available by non-profit organizations for public consumption. By the time they become publicly available, the reports can become outdated, especially when an issue is moving quickly in Congress.

Reliable access to CRS Reports would ensure that everyone has timely and comprehensive access to the collective wisdom of hundreds of analysts and experts on political issues when they’re at their most salient. This is already common practice in other support arms of the Congress, like the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office.

In the past CRS reports have been more widely available, but relatively recent CRS-imposed policies are increasing limiting access even as the Internet has made the documents easier to share. In fact, the original limitation on public access was imposed in the 1950s on CRS’s predecessor agency and arose from a concern about the costs of printing and mailing the reports — not their confidentiality. In the Internet age, this limitation no longer makes sense, especially as these reports are already available on CRS’s internal website in electronic form.

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