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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

Congressional Research Service (CRS) releases report on Congressionally Mandated Reports

Wow, the FirstBranchForecast was on fire this week (as it is most weeks!), announcing a new bill to protect Inspectors General, talking about the just-released FOIA Advisory Committee’s draft report available for public comment (submit yours via email to foia-advisory-committee@nara.gov through June 2), and also highlighting a new CRS report Congressionally Mandated Reports: Overview and Considerations for Congress that contextualizes the issues surrounding H.R.736 – Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. This bill, if passed, would require the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish and maintain a publicly available online portal containing copies of all congressionally mandated reports — 3500-4000 of them, many of them listed in House Document 116-4 Reports to be made to Congress (this is a document published annually by the Clerk of the House!). This would be a boon to the FDLP as it would fill many of the fugitive gaps in the national collection.

Thanks as always FirstBranchForecast!

Congressionally Mandated Reports was the topic of a new CRS report “on the potential benefits and challenges of reporting requirements,” which also “analyzes a number of statutory reporting requirements enacted during the 115th Congress.” The report also mentions legislation that would improve congressional access to mandated reports, the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, which has passed the House and is pending in the Senate, saying (as part of a longer analysis): “Establishing a centralized, public repository for congressionally mandated reports may address a number of concerns related to the reporting process.”

via Forecast for May 26, 2020 – First Branch Forecast.

FGI Document of the day: CRS report on legal considerations for postponing federal elections

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) at the Library of Congress is “Congress’ think tank.” Their reports are great resources on a wide variety of issues — don’t forget to look at the footnotes for more context and legislative histories!

Some Congressperson must have been thinking about the ramifications of postponing the November elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic currently sweeping the nation (check out the NCOV2019.live site for frequently updated data from around the world) because CRS published this report just a couple of days ago:

Postponing Federal Elections and the COVID-19 Pandemic: Legal Considerations

This Sidebar reviews the legal provisions that would constrain any efforts to delay or cancel federal elections during a public health crisis or other national emergency. The first part reviews laws pertaining to presidential elections, and the second part reviews laws relevant to congressional elections.

On a side note, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) introduced the “Vote By Mail Act of 2019” way back in january, 2019 (one of the first bills introduced in the 116th Congress!) and is now pushing a petition to get Congress to expedite the process for the November election. Please sign the petition to get your state’s Senators to co-sponsor this legislation and make it so we don’t need to postpone the November election. Elections are critical to a functioning democracy!

Got a document of the day that you’d like us to highlight? Send us an email at freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com!

Celebrate Sunshine Week with new CRS content now online

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.

via New CRS Content Now Online | Library of Congress Blog.

CRS Reports Now Available Online! Thanks @LibnOfCongress

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:

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.

via Trending: Congressional Research Service Reports Now Available Online | Library of Congress Blog.

GODORT pens thank you letter re CRS reports. LoC needs to do this right.

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.

Sincerely,
Shari Laster
Chair, Government Documents Round Table

cc
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

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