For years, reports from the Congressional Research Service have been available only to members of Congress. While that censorship rule is imposed by Congress itself, individual members who think Congress is wrong have made them public anyway.
So the restricted release of CRS reports may be more about a charade that makes Congress members feel exclusive or look powerful and important than it is about keeping the information out of public hands or protecting actual secrets. Most CRS reports, once released, quickly go online in libraries run by open-government groups.
All that may soon change. A bill (HR 4983), introduced by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), would upset the Congressional apple-cart by opening up many aspects of the clubby Hill culture to public scrutiny. And publish CRS reports.
CRS reports are actually the least of it. The bill would give the public better access to information about members' personal financial information, travel and gift reports, funding earmarks, committee work and reports, recorded floor votes, lobbyist registration and disclosure, and political contributions. Further provisions would increase openness in the executive branch — such as adding info on competitiveness and earmarks to existing federal grant and contract databases, or a requirement that a secret contractor integrity database be made public (see "Feds Put Data on Contractor Misdeeds Off-Limits to Public").
Quigley is co-founder of the just-formed Congressional Transparency Caucus (along with Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA).
- "Hopefully Coming Soon: CRS Access For All, and Other Opengov Initiatives from Congress," POGOBlog, April 6, 2010, by Lauren Perry.
- Rep. Mike Quigley: Release of March 26, 2010.
Some examples of recent CRS reports useful to environmental reporters are the following. We thank the Federation of American Scientists for publishing them:
- "Deforestation and Climate Change," CRS, March 24, 2010, by Ross W. Gorte and Pervaze A. Sheikh.
- "Changes in the Arctic: Background and Issues for Congress," CRS, March 30, 2010, by Ronald O'Rourke.
- "Federal Efforts to Address the Threat of Bioterrorism: Selected Issues for Congress," CRS, March 18, 2010, by Frank Gottron and Dana A. Shea.