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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.

Aftergood discontinues SecrecyNews. Thanks for the decades of work toward government transparency!

Happy 2022! We were on a brief hiatus here at FGI but are back in the saddle and looking to return to active blogger status in 2022. We’re always looking for others to help us track on government information and libraries, so contact me if you’d like to try your hand at posting (freegovinfo AT gmail DOT com).

It’s only fitting that our first post back should be to honor the great Steve Aftergood. Aftergood is the long-running author of the brilliant Secrecy News newsletter from the Federation of American Scientists, publisher of thousands(!) of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and all kinds of other critical formerly secret and/or hard-to-come-by government publications – many of which made their way into library collections and catalogs, rippling out to students and researchers for many years to come! Steve’s work has been so impactful on many disciplines and on many people (whether they know it or not, and that, IMHO is the mark of a great person!). His long and distinguished service to government policy and accountability should be lauded by all.

For those who don’t know him – and for those who do! – you’ll be better for reading his autobiographical essay “H-Diplo Essay 359- Steven Aftergood on Learning the Scholar’s Craft”.

Our sincere thanks and gratitude to Steve Aftergood!

Steve Aftergood, the scholar who authored the amazing Secrecy News newsletter for two decades, gathered and published tens of thousands of CRS reports over the decades, was responsible for publishing the Intelligence Community’s top line budget number, and successfully brought a scientific bent to questions of government policy — especially around government secrecy — has discontinued his program at the Federation of American Scientists, where he was first hired in 1989. Steve assures me he has not retired and merely is in transition. His essay on his experiences are worth reading, he still replies to emails, and we owe a debt of gratitude for Steve’s long service towards advancing government transparency and accountability and his collegiality towards all of us who have spent our careers learning from him.

[HT Daniel Schuman at First Branch Forecast who let us know about this breaking news!]

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)
http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/lsq.12323

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.

FirstBranchForecast

New CRS report: The Impeachment and Trial of a Former President

Thanks to the First Branch Forecast for pointing out this newly published legal sidebar “The Impeachment and Trial of a Former President.” We are in uncharted waters as President Trump has been impeached for the second time for “incitement of insurrection”, but the articles of impeachment have not yet been delivered to the Senate. This CRS report offers some historical context of the impeachment process.

“For the second time in just over a year, the House of Representatives has voted to impeach President Donald J. Trump. The House previously voted to impeach President Trump on December 18, 2019, and the Senate voted to acquit the President on February 5, 2020. Because the timing of this second impeachment vote is so close to the end of the Trump Administration, it is possible that any resulting Senate trial may not occur until after President Trump leaves office on January 20, 2021. This possibility has prompted the question of whether the Senate can try a former President for conduct that occurred while he was in office.

…it appears that most scholars who have closely examined the question have concluded that Congress has authority to extend the impeachment process to officials who are no longer in office.”

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!

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