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Article from Legislative Studies Quarterly analyzes CRS reports to delve into expert consultation in Congress
Thanks FirstBranchForecast for posting about this recent research and analysis about how often legislators in Congress consult expert witnesses and information. Fagan and McGee analyzed every Congressional Research Service (CRS) report at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 in order to come up with their findings.
The researchers note “Consultation between elected policymakers and experts is important to functional policymaking in a democracy…In order for elected officials to solve salient problems, they must search for subject-matter experts to define
problems and develop effective solutions.” The article of course validates what government information librarians have known for many years, that CRS reports are critical documents for legislators, students, researchers, and the public. But also that expert guidance for legislation is vital to the creation of legislation that looks to solve the country’s various problems.
*Apologies that this article is behind a paywall. If your library doesn’t have a subscription to Legislative Studies Quarterly, please do an interlibrary loan request.
Fagan, E. J., and Zachary A. McGee.
“Problem Solving and the Demand for Expert Information in Congress.”
Legislative Studies Quarterly (2020)
Data and replication materials available on Harvard’s Dataverse at https://dataverse.harvard.edu/dataset.xhtml?persistentId=doi:10.7910/DVN/PAWMSP.
The demand for expert information in Congress is the topic of a new academic article written by political scientists E.J. Fagan and Zachary McGee. They analyzed all the CRS reports at EveryCRSReport.com from 1997-2017 (thank you!) to evaluate “the extent to which legislators consult expertise in order to address salient problems.” (They used our database and not Congress’s because it is a “better database, with a comprehensive list of all reports, revision history, and metadata.”) Their findings: there’s a consistent short-term relationship between demand for expert information and issues that the public lists as the most important problem facing the country.
I’ve been very impressed with the research and thought that goes into the First Branch Forecast, the weekly newsletter focusing on transparency and governance issues being considered by Congress. There’s always something of interest in the newsletter, so I highly recommend that everyone subscribe.
One item of interest in a recent Forecast was about Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs). In my work as a research librarian, Federal budget analysis, information and data are frequent requests as the Congressional appropriations process is about as clear as mud to most people – and I also *highly* recommend bookmarking the regularly updated CRS report “The Congressional Appropriations Process: An Introduction” to better understand the kabuki-like procedural elements that go into this process. So the FBF research into CBJs offers both insight into and problems with the budget process and access to the information and data that go into this annual rite. I’ll let them explain in detail, but please read the entire post and don’t forget to subscribe to the newsletter.
Congressional Budget Justifications (CBJs) are plain-language explanations of how an agency proposes to spend money it requests that Congress appropriate, but how easy is it for congressional staff and citizens to find these documents? Demand Progress surveyed 456 federal agencies and entities for fiscal years 2018 and 2019 and found:
7.5 percent of the 173 agencies with congressional liaisons, i.e., 13 agencies, published their CBJs online for only FY 2018 or FY 2019, but not both. (Agencies with congressional liaison offices routinely interact with Congress). If you exclude subordinate agencies whose reports traditionally are included in a superior agency’s reports, that figure becomes 3.3 percent, or 5 agencies, out of 152 agencies published a CBJ for FY 2018 or 2019. The failure of one agency to publish their report impacts a number of sub-agencies. Among the agencies/entities inconsistent in their reporting is the Executive Office of the President, which houses the Office of Management and Budget, the National Security Council, and the Office of the Vice President.
How a complex network of bills becomes a law: GovTrack introduces new data analysis of text incorporation
Here’s a fascinating new way to look at US Congressional legislation from our friends at GovTrack.us. As Josh Tauberer explains, GovTrack’s new service “Enacted Via Other Measures,” their new data analysis of text incorporation, will now provide connections between bills — when a bill has at least about 33% of its provisions incorporated into one or more enacted bills — in order to show “how a complex network of bills becomes a law.”
No longer will legislative trackers be limited to the 6 stages in becoming a law described on Congress.gov, or even the 13 steps described by this handy infographic by Mike Wirth and Suzanne Cooper-Guasco (“How Our Laws Are Made”, First place award in the Design for America contest, 2010). Now we’ll be able to see the various pieces of bills that make it into other bills.
This is an amazing new looking glass into the legislative process. Thanks GovTrack.us!
This new analysis literally doubles our insight.
Only about 3% of bills will be enacted through the signature of the President or a veto override. Another 1% are identical to those bills, so-called “companion bills,” which are easily identified (see CRS, below). Our new analysis reveals almost another 3% of bills which had substantial parts incorporated into an enacted bill in 2015–2016. To miss that last 3% is to be practically 100% wrong about how many bills are being enacted by Congress.
And there may be even more than that, which we’ll find out as we tweak our methodology in the future.
There are so many new questions to answer:
- Who are the sources of these enacted provisions?
- How often is this cut-and-paste process cross-partisan?
- What provisions were removed from a bill to be enacted?
- Is cut-and-paste more frequent today than in the past?
I’ve had a tab open to this ProPublica post “A New Way to Keep an Eye on Who Represents You in Congress” for a couple of weeks and just now getting around to sharing. Their new project called “Represent” is a great way to track on lawmakers, the bills they consider and the votes they take (and miss). Search for your legislators by address, ZIP code or name. A very handy tool indeed. But 2 things stand out especially about this new effort: 1) “Represent” not only collates data from a variety of government resources (see below) but they also point out to other sites that offer valuable features like individual lawmaker and bill pages on GovTrack and C-SPAN; and 2) They’re making available all the data that they use through their API. Their data sources include:
- The official Web site of the Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives, for vote data
- The official Web site of the United States Senate, for vote data
- The Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, for member biographical information
- The United States Project, for social media account names in member lists and some member biographical information
- MIT Professor Charles Stewart’s collection of Congressional data, for some role information
- Congress.gov (The Library of Congress) and the Government Publishing Office, for bill data and nomination data
Check it out, bookmark it, and let your library patrons know about it!
Today ProPublica is launching a new interactive database that will help you keep track of the officials who represent you in Congress.
The project is the continuation of two projects I worked on at The New York Times — the first is the Inside Congress database, which we are taking over at ProPublica starting today.
But we also have big plans for it. While the original interactive database at The Times focused on bills and votes, our new project adds pages for each elected official, where you can find their latest votes, legislation they support and statistics about their voting. As we move forward we want to add much more data to help you understand how your elected officials represent you, the incentives that drive them and the issues they care about.
In that way, it is also a continuation of another project I worked on at the Times. In late 2008, The New York Times launched an app called Represent that connected city residents with the officials who represented them at the local, state and federal levels. It was an experiment in trying to make it easier to keep track of what elected officials were doing.
Because ProPublica is rekindling that effort, we’re calling the new project Represent.
The new Represent will help you track members, votes and bills in the House of Representatives and Senate. We’re also launching a Congress API, or Application Programming Interface, so developers can get data about what Congress is doing, too.