By DANA LIEBELSON
A bipartisan group of representatives introduced a bill Wednesday that would give the public unprecedented access to valuable congressional reports.
Taxpayers pour over $100 million into the Congressional Research Service (CRS) each year but aren’t allowed access to its work. CRS compiles expert advice, and produces nonpartisan briefs for Members of Congress and their staff. These reports cover everything from international terrorist issues, to Food and Drug Administration oversight, to military space programs—many issues that are important to voters.
The Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Resolution was introduced by Rep. Lance Leonard (R-N.J.) and is cosponsored by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Timothy V. Johnson (R-Ill.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).
Quigley said in a press release that the bill “will put more power in the hands of the public and increase transparency, so that every day citizens can continue being the government’s best watchdog.”
Leonard agrees. “It is good public policy to allow educators, students, members of the news media and everyday citizens access to CRS’ non-partisan taxpayer-funded reports.”
The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) has long advocated for CRS products to be made more accessible to the public. For one thing, Members of Congress can already request CRS reports even if they leave the Hill and become lobbyists, raising the question of whether this information is always being used in the public interest.
In the past, CRS has claimed that releasing the reports will undermine the relationship legislators have with their constituents, but as POGO has pointed out before, “Well-informed constituents can only strengthen the democratic process by asking pertinent questions and offering educated opinions to their Members of Congress.”
POGO and other good government groups have raised the point that the Government Accountability Office and the Congressional Budget Office both make their reports readily available to the public. CRS reports, in contrast, are obtained by independent companies that charge for them. Penny Hill Press, for example, charges $399 for a year-long subscription to CRS reports.
This isn’t the first congressional attempt to make these reports freely available to the public—many pieces of legislation addressing this issue have been introduced over the years. We hope that this latest bill will finally become law and provide comprehensive access to the public.
Dana Liebelson is the Beth Daley Impact Fellow at the Project On Government Oversight. Image by Flickr user vgm8383.