At a time when even the opaque Federal Reserve says it is trying (although not trying hard enough) to make government transparency a top priority, the confidentiality of Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports stands as a curious anomaly. Every year CRS receives over $100 million in taxpayer funds to provide Congress with legislative policy analysis, but Congress places restrictions on making CRS reports available to the public. POGO believes that taxpayers should have full access to these reports, which provide an invaluable glimpse into the legislative process.
This week Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) renewed his ongoing effort to improve public access to CRS reports. In a letter to Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), the new chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, Lieberman calls for a "system that ensures widespread public access to CRS reports...with material presented by topic and the capability to search across all reports and issue briefs."
Last Congress, the Rules Committee authorized CRS to develop software to allow Senators to post reports on their personal websites. Non-profit organizations like Open CRS and Wikileaks have also posted thousands of CRS reports for free on their sites. But in order to "ensure that those with power and those without have equal access to this important resource," Lieberman argues that CRS reports need to be posted on an official, automatically updated clearinghouse.
POGO wholeheartedly endorses Senator Lieberman's recommendations, and we call on Congress to enact them without delay.
On a similar note, our friends at OpenTheGovernment.org and the Center for Democracy and Technology have launched a website called "Show Us the Data: The Most Wanted Government Documents." They're asking the public to help them identify the 10 most wanted government documents, reports, or data sets that should be made available online. As of this writing, CRS reports are in the lead with over 350 votes.
You have until March 9th to cast your vote or to request a new document. The results of this project will be captured in a report released during Sunshine Week and distributed to government agencies and the media.
-- Michael Smallberg