Resolution Introduced To Make Public Domain Congressional Research Finally Accessible To The Public

from the that-would-be-good dept

For years, we've been noting the absurdity of how Congress keeps the output of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) totally secret. As you hopefully know, works produced by the federal government are mostly not subject to copyright, and are in the public domain. Of course, just because something is in the public domain doesn't mean anyone has a requirement to make it available -- and Congress has long used that loophole to keep CRS reports very, very secret. Often this is because the CRS -- who has a very strong reputation for quality, non-biased, non-partisan, non-lobbying-influenced work -- produces research that shows that various Congressional proposals are a joke. And Congress doesn't want that info let out. Three years ago, Wikileaks jumpstarted some discussion by releasing thousands of CRS reports, but many think that the information, as public domain, should be more widely available.

Last year, we wrote about a bunch of groups sending a letter to Congress asking them to support making CRS reports public -- and it looks like some in Congress may actually be paying attention. Rep. Leonard Lance has introduced (with Reps. Quigley, Johnson, Cooper and Schiff) a resolution to make certain CRS publications available to the public. It's unclear if this has any chance of going anywhere, but it's good to see some interest in this issue.

The resolution asks the Clerk of the House to work with CRS to "establish and maintain a centralized, searchable, bulk downloadable, electronic database" which will include a bunch of CRS documents. Specifically:
(A) Congressional Research Service Issue Briefs.

(B) Congressional Research Service Reports.

(C) Congressional Research Service Authorization of Appropriations Products and Appropriations Products.

(D) Materials intended or available for general congressional distribution that are the same or substantially similar in content to CRS Reports, Issue Briefs, and Appropriations Products.
Having this info public would be a huge boon for the public. Hopefully Congress actually pays attention.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 1:53am

    The good stuff is always hidden, this is great and bad, great because it becomes more transparent, open and accessible, bad because eventually, self interests may start to influence those reports to reflect their views, it is a risk, but almost everything worth doing it is risky.

     

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    Lorpius Prime (profile), Jul 20th, 2012 @ 1:59am

    If it happens...

    I just hope we're prepared for a fight to make sure the reports stay high-quality, unbiased, non-partisan, and free of lobbyist influence. Because once they become footballs in public debates, there'll be significant pressure to make them say whatever the politicians commissioning the studies want.

     

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  3.  
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    Josef Anvil (profile), Jul 20th, 2012 @ 2:09am

    LOL

    I'm wondering if anyone has realized the irony of the acronym CRS which is commonly used to mean Can't Remember Shit.

     

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  4.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 20th, 2012 @ 2:14am

    Re: LOL

    ...
    I'm pretty sure that would be noticed by more people if more people had ever heard of that one. (i certainly haven't.)

    also:

    Quigley is an amusing name.
    where does that one even come from?
    (i find, as a rule, the weirder a word is and the less sense it makes the more likely it is to have it's origin in england rather than as an import... odd that.)

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 4:24am

    Re: Re: LOL

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quigley
    "Quigley is a surname of Irish origin anglicised from the Gaelic Coigligh meaning 'descendent of Coigleach (male)' or N Choigligh meaning 'descendent of Coigleach (female)' that may refer to:"

     

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  6.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 5:14am

    "CRS ... produces research that shows that various Congressional proposals are a joke. And Congress doesn't want that info let out."

    "Having this info public would be a huge boon for the public. Hopefully Congress actually pays attention."

    From the first quote, I am kind of torn on the congress attention to this issue since it seems like a problematic conflict of interest for some of them...

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 7:56am

    How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    The whole point of CRS is to give congresspeople a confidential venue to ask questions and float ideas that may prove to be stupid without having their questions used as political footballs.

    If a Congressperson knows CRS reports on their questions will be made public, even if they had no intention of pursuing legislation based on those questions, and then will be used to criticize and browbeat them, why would they ask the question in the first place? How will removing the one trustworthy resource they have, improve the political process? Or does that even matter as long as we can see the documents?

     

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  8.  
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    Mr. Applegate, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 8:34am

    Re: How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    How exactly does making CRS reports public remove a trustworthy source? (It may be a source they are afraid to use, in which case they shouldn't be in politics anyway). As for confidential, that is a HUGE part of the problem with our political system. With the exception of certain national security issues, confidentiality should not be a part of politics, it corrupts the politician and the process.

    Putting the reports out in the open would, hopefully, give a politician pause when the CRS says "That's the dumbest thing to come down the pike in a long time". Perhaps the politician would then be held accountable if he tried to push through bad legislation (which happens all the time).

    I for one am sick to death of all the influence pedaling, back room deals, fear mongering, and dis-information. You certainly can't get at anything approaching the truth from the politicians, PACs, lobbyists or traditional news sources. Some straight up FACTS without SPIN or DECEPTION would be quite welcome!

    I guess the real fear is that the people would be educated and rise up in protest. Why do you think congress won't even ask how many Americans the NSA has spied on. They know the answer and they know Americans would revolt if they knew the truth. That goes for a lot of legislation that gets passed too. If people knew the truth about it rather than what they are told they would rise up in protest.

    Do you really think that the health care bill would have passed if the people had been told the truth (that it is a tax on EVERYONE, poor and rich alike). Did that even get widely reported after the Supreme Court said that the personal mandate was a tax and thus valid? No. If it did everyone that voted for it would lose this next election.

    He who controls the release of knowledge has complete control. Why do you think in the middle ages the lower classes were not allowed to learn to read? Because they might learn the truth and rise up. And most Americans are just like sheep, they may occasionally bleat in protest, but they will still follow the Sheppard (politician) right to the slaughter house.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 9:48am

    Re: Re: How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    "How exactly does making CRS reports public remove a trustworthy source?"

    As Lorpius said above:

    "Because once they become footballs in public debates, there'll be significant pressure to make them say whatever the politicians commissioning the studies want."

    I'm really torn over this one. On the one hand, these reports are in the public domain and should be available. On the other hand, they will quickly become useless once made public.

     

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    Mr. Applegate, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 11:55am

    Re: Re: Re: How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    If (and I don't know that this is true) CRS is not beholden to congress, The President, Businesses... then there would be no real pressure.

    You only become a political football if you allow yourself to. What I am saying is that it could happen that CRS becomes useless, but it might not. It is not a given.

    In my job as a consultant, I always "Tell it like it is" (or at least as I see it) without coloring it the way the vendor, client or anyone else wants. That is what I am paid to do. Doing that might cost me future work, but it is what I am paid to do.

    CRS should be no different. There should be no controls on CRS, and Hands off by everyone else.

    I know I live in some strange world. But if you came up and offered me $10,000,000 to say the sky was yellow I would tell you to FO.

    It's called integrity, and some people actually still have it.

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 1:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    I agree on the integrity point. I am not questioning whether the quality of CRS reports would change if reports become public or saying that the oversight of CRS should/will change.

    What I am asking is why we expect congresspeople to continue asking questions that may be stupid and have stupid/awful answers if they know those reports and their questions will end up on the evening news. That is the political football I am concerned about. Not the nature of the CRS but of its usage.

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 20th, 2012 @ 2:00pm

    Re: Re: How will this encourage Congress to continue using CRS?

    Or, the concern could be that if congresspeople know they can no longer ask a question (any question) of a non-partisan source without being criticized for asking, they will quit asking altogether.

    Or, that they will direct their questions to the lobbyists, political appointees, donors, and think-tanks that will be happy to keep their queries confidential and won't provide half the quality of information CRS will.

     

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  13.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 21st, 2012 @ 5:03am

    Is my opinion that people who can't even handle how to ask questions should not be in public office, but that is not going to happen, those people will find ways to ask the stupid questions anyways in private or find a proxy of some sort if it really is in their interest to do so.

    Also politicians are sheep, they fallow others, the ones that don't ask the questions are relegated to following others not commanding them.

    So I don't really see the problem here, if the elected idiot can't ask questions why should he/she be in office?
    If an elected idiot can't come up with an intelligent way of asking a question that should reflect bad on him/her, that is not a problem that is natural selection.

     

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