Anonymous Lawmaker Helps to Build OpenCRS Database
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WASHINGTON -- The Center for Democracy and Technology's two-year old project to make Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports available to the public online at no cost got a huge boost this week, when a member of Congress agreed to provide a running list of new CRS reports as they are published.
Nicknamed "Congress's brain," the CRS generates in-depth, non-partisan research on a wide range of issues critical to Americans. But while the taxpayer-funded reports are unclassified, the government has never made them readily available to the public. Instead corporate resellers have obtained the reports through back channels and sold them to lobbyists who can afford to buy them. In 2005, CDT launched the OpenCRS Project , which now provides users free, fully searchable access to more than 12,000 CRS reports that have been obtained by archivists and advocates.
By providing a running list of new reports, the lawmaker (who asked to remain unnamed) makes it possible for OpenCRS's network of grassroots volunteers to seek out the reports and upload them to the database. One of the biggest obstacles for OpenCRS has always been that there was no way of knowing exactly what reports had even been published.
"We know Americans are hungry for this resource," CDT President Leslie Harris said. "Users have downloaded more than five million reports from the OpenCRS since we launched in 2005. We're thankful to this lawmaker for giving us the tools to make this resource even more useful."
Drawing on the list provided by the lawmaker, CDT has published a catalog of "fugitive" reports that still need to be added to the database (http://www.opencrs.com/fugitives.php).
"Congressional inertia that has kept this important public resource out of the hands of the Americans who finance it and in the hands of the lobbyists that can afford to pay for individual reports. This lawmaker has done a great service to the public by helping to level the playing field," CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz said. "Now it's time for the public to work with us to ask for these reports and help push Congress to make all CRS reports available to the public as they are released."
CDT estimates that the OpenCRS database includes roughly 80 percent of current CRS reports. Although that percentage should go up with the addition of this running catalog of new reports, OpenCRS will never be able to provide a complete index of CRS reports unless Congress votes to open them to the public. CDT strongly supports legislation to make all non-confidential CRS products open to the public through a Congressional Web site.