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Lieberman Improves on CRS Resolution

In what has come to be a bit of a tradition, Senator Lieberman has
introduced a resolution in the Senate to put non-confidential Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports online. A good bi-partisan group including Senators McCain (R-AZ), Leahy (D-VT), Feingold (D-WI), Harkin (D-IA), Collins (R-ME), and Lugar (R-IN) have co-sponsored the resolution, and we commend each of them; in particular, Senators McCain and Leahy have long histories of trying to free CRS reports. Since this is a Senate resolution, it would only have to be approved by the Senate Rules Committee and the Senate at large- and once passed, the public would have access to CRS reports through Senators’ Websites. CRS, housed in the Library of Congress, uses taxpayer dollars to produce reports on public policy issues ranging from foreign affairs to agriculture to health care. CRS reports represent some of the best policy research conducted by the federal government. All of the reports are posted online, but access is available only to Congressional offices through an intranet system. Citizens can ask for copies of the reports through their Member of Congress, only if they already know that the report exists. Moreover, the general public cannot search through past reports, and a comprehensive index of the reports is not available online, so citizens basically have to guess when they ask for relevant reports. While third parties like CDT’s Open CRS make many of these reports publicly available, there is no official source for these briefs from the federal government, and it has been ten years since CDT first identified CRS reports as the “Most Wanted” government document. Since then, each session of Congress has seen a bill or resolution to free the CRS reports- to no avail. The public can also purchase copies of the reports from CRS report resellers, but obtaining copies of all the reports that are relevant would cost a great deal of money for reports that are entirely taxpayer funded in the first place. Senate Resolution 118 would change that by allowing lawmakers to provide access to CRS services to the public on official website. Rather than creating a new tool for public access, the resolution would let Members and Committees share reports with the public using the same online services that are available on Congress’ internal CRS website. Critically, the new resolution also requires that an index of CRS issue briefs and reports to be made public. Currently, Open CRS receives updates on reports as they are published from an anonymous lawmaker, but a public index of reports would simplify this process. It would be simple to provide this index, and to let the public know what their lawmakers are reading- and for them to read it too. It is high time for an officially sanctioned, free way to distribute the reports to the people.