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Happy Sunshine Week, the week where we celebrate government transparency, FOIA and all things open government information! There’s lots happening this week including the upcoming 1/2 day live and streaming celebration at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). But there’s also work to be done. Evidently, appropriators are holding up the smart, pro-transparency “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act” scheduled for a floor vote on Tuesday. Contact your Representative today and tell them to pass this important act!
There’s too much news happening this week to list it all — make sure to subscribe to the First Branch Forecast weekly newsletter published by Daniel Schuman and his crack team at Demand Progress to keep up to date! — but I did want to highlight the good news coming out of the LIBRARY of Congress. Slowly but surely, they’re expanding the number of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports being published on their site crsreports.congress.gov. They still don’t have the coverage of EveryCRSReport.com which includes 14,742 CRS reports (and still growing) but LoC is getting there so good on them. Celebrate Sunshine Week by leaving LoC a comment and contacting your Representative to tell them to vote for “HR 736 Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act”. Sunshine is the best disinfectant!!
Since launching, we’ve added hundreds of new reports and are working hard to include the back catalog of older CRS reports – a process that is expected to be complete later this month. Today, you can access more than 2,300 reports on topics ranging from the Small Business Administration to farm policy.
Starting this week, the Library is making additional product types available on the site. The site now includes In Focus products, which are two-page executive level briefing documents on a range of policy issues. For example, recent topics include military medical malpractice and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Block Grant. Another newly-added product type is the Insight, which provides short-form analysis on fast moving or more focused issues. Examples of topics include volcano early warning systems and Congressional Member Organizations. Users can filter by product type using the faceted search on the left hand of the search results page.
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden announced today that reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) are now online at crsreports.congress.gov. This is HUGE news indeed because many librarians and open government advocates have been asking for this for at least 25 years.
The site is a good first step, and hopefully will only get better over time — eg I’d love to see CRS reports in multiple formats (not just PDF) and in bulk start to be distributed to FDLP libraries and LoC provide MARC records so that libraries could download the metadata and add to their local catalogs like DOE’s Office of Scientific and technical Information (OSTI) has been doing for years.
However, Daniel Schuman, one of the co-founders of everyCRSreport.com and a long-time advocate for public access to CRS reports, points out that the site has much to be desired so far:
I messed up my thread on the new CRS reports website. Bottom lines:
-They are missing THOUSANDS of reports
-They're disclosing author names
-Faceted searching appears decent (but slow)
-They have some archival reports with stable URLs, but possible implementation problem
— Daniel Schuman (@danielschuman) September 18, 2018
Many of us are hopeful that the site will continue to improve over time and that the Library of Congress will reach out to the library- and open government communities for ideas on how to make the site better for public access. Rome, and CRS reports database, were not built in a day 😉
I’m pleased to announce that, for the first time, the Library of Congress is providing Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports to the public. The reports are available online at crsreports.congress.gov. Created by experts in CRS, the reports present a legislative perspective on topics such as agriculture policy, counterterrorism operations, banking regulation, veteran’s issues and much more.
Founded over a century ago, CRS provides authoritative and confidential research and analysis for Congress’ deliberative use.
The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 directs the Library to also make CRS reports publicly available online. We worked closely with Congress to make sure that we had a mutual understanding of the law’s requirements and Congress’ expectations in our approach to this project.
The result is a new public website for CRS reports based on the same search functionality that Congress uses – designed to be as user friendly as possible – that allows reports to be found by common keywords. We believe the site will be intuitive for the public to use and will also be easily updated with enhancements made to the congressional site in the future.
I’m still giddy that CRS reports will soon be made public! The Government Documents Round Table (GODORT) of the American Library Association just wrote a letter to the Congressional Transparency Caucus thanking them for their ongoing efforts to make Congressional Research Service reports publicly available.
This comes at an especially opportune time because critics worry that Library of Congress isn’t delivering on the goods. My hope is that this public letter from a large library association, because it’s cc’d to Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden among others, will put a public spotlight on LC and maybe get them to fully deliver all CRS reports in a timely and cost-effective manner.
On behalf of the American Library Association (ALA)’s Government Documents Round Table (GODORT), I am writing to express our gratitude for the Congressional Transparency Caucus’s leadership in ensuring the public availability of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports; and to encourage the Caucus’s continued leadership in ensuring these reports are made available in a timely fashion.
The Congressional Research Service, informally known as the “think tank” of Congress, was founded in 1914. But until now, there has been no systematic, comprehensive, official source that provides all Americans equal access to their reports, even though they have been routinely released to the public by Members of Congress, made available through non-profit websites like EveryCRSReport.com and the Federation of American Scientists, and sold by commercial publishers.
Reports from the CRS are well researched and balanced documents, addressing a wide variety of current issues of importance to the American public. As such, the American Library Association-along with many other library- and open government organizations, grassroots efforts, and individual citizens-has long advocated that they be made public and distributed
through libraries in the Federal Depository Library Program (FDLP), administered by the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO).
The first bills regarding public online access to CRS reports arose in the 105th Congress (1997-1998): S. 1578 was introduced by Sens. McCain (R-AZ) and Leahy (D-VT) in the Senate, and H.R. 3131 was introduced by Reps. Chris Shays (R-CT) and David Price (D-NC) in the House. Though these efforts were unsuccessful, the determination to make CRS reports public never wavered. With the passage of the 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Act, CRS reports will now be accessible to the American public. The Library of Congress will begin publishing nonconfidential, non-partisan reports on a publicly accessible Congressional website starting in September 2018. Once these reports are fully available, this achievement will positively contribute to the democratic process and inform citizens of the wide variety of issues before Congress.
GODORT would like to sincerely thank you and your staff for over two decades of hard work and dedication to making public access to CRS reports a reality.
Chair, Government Documents Round Table
Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden
CRS Director Mary Mazanec
Steven Aftergood, American Federation of Scientists
Daniel Schuman, DemandProgress
Kevin Kosar, R Street Institute
Josh Tauberer, GovTrack.US
Many were thrilled earlier this spring when the FY 2018 Omnibus Appropriations Law included the “public access to all non-confidential CRS reports.”
Well, not so fast it seems. Daniel Schuman, Kevin Kosar, and Josh Tauberer (3 folks doing great work over the last several years on the CRS reports issue) have found that the “Library plan to publish CRS reports falls short of the law, and is unduly expensive.” LOC plan “does not comport with the law or best practices for creating websites and is unusually expensive,” they wrote. By contrast, their own collection of 14,000 reports on everyCRSreport.com cost about $20,000. Another point of criticism is that the the library’s plans to publish the reports only as PDF files — rather than in both HTML and PDF formats — making them harder to access on mobile devices and potentially inaccessible to people with visual impairments. The plan also apparently ignores a directive to publish a separate index of all the reports published by CRS, they said, which would make it easier for laypeople to see all available documents at once.
the group makes several important recommendations. To comply with the law, the Library should:
- Update its implementation plan to ensure that it publishes all CRS reports — we believe there are many more than the 2,900 the Implementation Plan says will be published by Spring 2019 — by the statutory deadline of September 19 of this year. We request it aim for September 17th, which is Constitution Day. The Library’s implementation extends beyond April of next year;
- Update its implementation plan to include all CRS Reports, including insights, infographics, sidebars/legal sidebars, in focus, and testimony;
- Revise its implementation plan to ensure that HTML versions of the reports are available to the public just as they are already available to Congressional staff — this would help the visually impaired read the reports as well as allow reports to be read on mobile devices;
- Revise its implementation plan to include an index of CRS reports, in accordance with the law’s requirements; and
- Review the code we published to see whether it would help the Library meet its obligations, in particular our automated author information redaction functionality, or whether the Library could develop an automated tool that would enable it to comply with the timeline.
With respect to the website design, the Library should:
- Consult with the Government Publishing Office and the public on how best to implement bulk access;
- Develop a plan to respond to any initial heavy loads on the website;
- Implement a robust website search capability and develop a plan to do so;
- Create predictable URLs for CRS reports and a landing page for a report series, and set forth a plan to do so;
- Keep down costs by examining our approach to see whether it can use some of our techniques to save money; and
- Consider engaging an entity like the General Services Administration’s 18F to help keep down costs and ensure a quality product.
So far, attempts to communicate with the Library of Congress have fallen on deaf ears. So if any of our readers have connections to Carla Hayden’s office, please forward this on to her.
Steven Aftergood reports that the Congressional Research Service (CRS) will begin publishing some of its non-confidential reports on a publicly accessible congressional website by September 18, 2018.
- CRS Previews Public Release of its Reports by Steven Aftergood, Secrecy News (Jun.22, 2018).
- Public Release of CRS Reports: FAQ for Congressional Staff
“For the initial public release, the Library will make available in PDF format all of CRS’s R-series of ‘active’ reports that were published since the enactment date, as well as the Appropriations Status Table,” CRS said in a new memorandum for congressional staff. The “R-series” refers to the primary CRS reports that have a report number beginning with R. It does not include CRS Insights, Legal Sidebars, or In Focus reports. Over time, older R-series reports as well as some other product lines will be added to the public collection, CRS said.