Ask Congress To Make Public Domain Congressional Research Service's Reports Public

from the yes,-please dept

A couple of years ago, we wrote about how the Congressional Research Service’s reports were technically public domain, but were often hidden from the public by a Congress, who doesn’t want you to see the CRS reports. That’s because CRS is known for publishing research that is non-partisan, extremely credible and useful. And, of course, our elected officials in Congress don’t want that sort of information out there. They prefer the information that’s been spun to their political advantage first. Wikileaks has been able to publish some CRS reports, but a ton of CRS stuff still remains hidden, even though it’s technically public domain.

A bunch of organizations are trying to change that. 38 groups have sent a letter to Congress asking them to open up and release CRS research. The full letter is included after the jump, but this is a proposal that really should be supported by the public. Check it out, and if you agree, add your voices to those pushing to finally open up this valuable resource to the public who paid for it.

February 25, 2010

James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
The Library of Congress
101 Independence Ave, SE
Washington, DC 20540

Dear Dr. Billington:

We the undersigned organizations concerned with government openness and accountability are writing to urge you to appoint a Director of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) who will work with Congress to provide online free public access to the unclassified, non-confidential, taxpayer-funded reports produced by CRS.

The public needs access to these non-confidential CRS reports in order to discharge their civic duties. American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. But while the reports are non-classified, and play a critical role in our legislative process, they have never been made available in a consistent and official way to members of the public.

Predictably, to fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell copies of these reports at a price. This means that non-confidential CRS reports are readily available to lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people lack the information necessary to even request reports from their Members of Congress.

In 1822, James Madison explained why citizens must have government information: "A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives." In the spirit of Madison, we ask you to appoint a Director of CRS who will help advance the goal of online free public access to CRS reports.

Representatives from the undersigned organizations would be happy to meet with you or your staff at any time to discuss this important issue. Please contact Amy Bennett, Program Associate, ( or 202-332-6736), at your convenience.


American Association of Law Libraries
American Library Association
American Society of News Editors
Association of Research Libraries
Bill of Rights Defense Committee
Center for Democracy and Technology
Center for Media and Democracy
Center for Responsive Politics
Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW)
Defending Dissent Foundation, Inc.
Essential Information
Federation of American Scientists
Free Government Information
Government Accountability Project (GAP)
Knowledge Ecology International
Liberty Coalition
National Coalition Against Censorship
National Freedom of Information Coalition
National Security Counselors
No More Guantanamos
OMB Watch
Point of Order
Project On Government Oversight (POGO)
Public Citizen
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
Society of Academic Law Library Directors
Society of Professional Journalists
Special Libraries Association
Sunlight Foundation
University of Missouri Freedom of Information Center
Washington Coalition for Open Government

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Comments on “Ask Congress To Make Public Domain Congressional Research Service's Reports Public”

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SmarterThanYall (profile) says:

Re: The lack of comments kinda says it all.

Well now, see? There’s your problem. You still believe that they’re your representatives. They’re not. Oh sure, you were allowed to vote for one of the candidates, but virtually all of them are already beholden to the people who wrote the big checks that got the on the ballot in the first place. In other words, big business and big money are the only real “constituents”.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: defeatism

Perhaps there are several people unsure about opening that up for just this reason.

But Madison was correct. “A popular government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy; or, perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance: And a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.”

We can continue pressuring to have as much made open as possible. Otherwise, this is not a nation of We the People, but of We a Minority of the People.

Put differently, if government info remains largely inaccessible to those of modest means, those of modest means will not be the ones ruling. It will be those of higher means who do have access — this is what we have today.

We should keep putting pressure so that the odds increase that those that do honest assessments and are willing to share with the public are more likely to get their hands on this.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: defeatism

>> therefore they are permitted to be candid and accurate.

This was the first thought that crossed my mind, but it is not right. You captured it well with the subject line “defeatism” in that “transparency would defeat the point of the research if it stops being candid, but if we don’t try we are admitting defeat as well.

The important goal is to push things to the light.

It’s one thing to say, OK, they have access to the good stuff, so let’s let them keep having that and we will trust them. In software, proprietary companies do this all the time. They ask us to trust them because they know better to make the important decisions. Open source has demonstrated the folly of those ways.

If we decide not to trust them and do risk candidness, then what remains is for them to open up garbage data as the alleged data upon which they base their decisions or to come up with a law to hide the information.

If the do the former, we will have the means to point out to them that the data/analysis/etc is garbage. If they do the latter, we will be able to hold it against them come elections. Either way, we can make a stink of this publicly if we demand first, but if we “trust them”, we can’t make a stink with any sort of legitimacy or accuracy.

If we aim to level playing fields, despite risks, it will almost surely not happen if we don’t have a real attempt at transparency… at knowledge. Knowledge breaks the bonds of slavery.

BTW, in open source software, when the main group screws up too much, people “fork”, so we can consider this move towards transparency as a potential precursor to a Constitutional change that will alter the way this nation is to be ruled.

Jose_X (profile) says:

This looks like an example of how the minority of those with above-average access have advantages in places like the stock market.

And yet those with this greater access complain on paying a few % higher in taxes on high income even though in many cases they would have much lower income were it not for their greater than average access useful in anticipating the direction of major market movements. And we are talking about tax revenues that would cover our national public deficit.

Big money loves lack of transparency because it would be one more source of quality advantages to those already wealthy (who can afford to buy insight most cannot).

This tiered knowledge access always exists and is a reason numerous economic assumptions go too far. We can’t have free markets that are fair when we have such information lopsidedness.

Since Big Money loves this sort of thing (the existance of “insider” information), they will resist having this be opened up. If opened, they will seek to sway Congress to move the new good information to another low-profile group.

someone (profile) says:

Re: Re:

“those with this greater access complain on paying a few % higher in taxes on high income even though in many cases they would have much lower income were it not for their greater than average access useful in anticipating the direction of major market movements.”

The problem here is not tax rates, the problem you describe is that some people have above average access to information.
I am with you on fixing that, information should be available to all citizens equally.

Using taxes in the manner you suggest seems like using taxes to punish people.
What is a rich persons incentive to innovate and create jobs only to have more of their money sucked away in taxes?
What is a poor persons incentive to work hard and attempt to become rich only to pay a higher tax rate *AND* get less “free” governmental assistance?

The progressive tax system is simply another mess of “insider” information that people must understand in-order to move from one class to the next. It is not shocking that this complex tax code benefits those elite “in the know” people.

Raising the rates on the rich without fixing the real problem does nothing other than promote more class warfare. If you want to “hurt” the elite take away their “insider” advantage by drastically simplifying the tax laws.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

>> If you want to “hurt” the elite take away their “insider” advantage by drastically simplifying the tax laws.

I agree with the essence of your comment that we want to work towards a situation where there is a true level playing field for all people (if that is what you were hinting at), but there are many variables. Progressive taxes are the final equilizer.

Note that people start off totally different. While one gets a loving family, interesting valuable education, access, etc, another doesn’t even have parents that can read well and perhaps beat the kid often. These two children will never really be on a level playing field. We will never be in a situation where a flat tax will do justice to citizens.. this even as we try to fix wrongs and level fields. Progressive taxes are not the answer but are the final equilizer as we seek a better solution to what exists.

From this perspective, if it makes sense to you, we can see that, while there might be some disincentive to the wealthy from progressive taxes, we have to match that with the fact that many who are not wealthy also have to deal with the great disincentive that is their own tax burden where they have much less disposable income and many fewer levers to “combat” some others in the market place.

If we cater to the wealthy and their ideal state, we have a much greater social and economic opportunity cost from the many more that recognize they are working on a biased field.

I generally believe, for individual fairness, that people should have similar opportunities (impossible to measure, but this is a model/ideal I am talking about). And I believe that this overlaps with what is maximal social gain because all being mostly equal I think anyone can do roughly what anyone else could otherwise do (meaning I don’t think genes create such vast differences.. for the most part subtle ones but which magnify (butterfly effect) as a person responds to environment minute by minute).

And part of the problem with unbalanced field is that their will be a tendency for those favored to end up further ahead at the end of the day (year). This tendency, absent feedback mechanism (eg, like progressive yearly and like death taxes), would produce a very skewed wealth/control/happiness/etc distribution.

This is a Union of the majority. (“to promote the general welfare” not the welfare of a minority).

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

>> If you want to “hurt” the elite take away their “insider” advantage by drastically simplifying the tax laws.

A different point I didn’t make before is that while there is insider advantage to complex tax laws, there are many taxes intended to promote behavior that is believed to be socially beneficial (putting aside the individual fair playing field argument already discussed a bit) where we might otherwise expect greed or a profit-drive to dominate.

For example, it might be natural for many (especially among those who focus in business skills and hence dominate) to want to always internalize profits and externalize costs. This is socially damaging behavior. Tax policy is one tool that can help re-adjust the priorities there, so that the general welfare does not suffer as a few strive and go far in their individual pursuit of happiness.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: good intentions

“…there are many taxes intended to promote behavior that is believed to be socially beneficial…”

Intentions count for very little. An idealist invents a new tax, intending social good; a politician pushes it, hoping to win votes that way; another politician votes for it (with amendments), after checking with campaign backers that it won’t hurt them much; tax lawyers love the new complexity; middle-class people who can’t afford tax lawyers get a rude surprise; the new behavior is nothing at all like what the idealist had in mind, but who cares?

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 good intentions

An open source approach would allow collaborating small corporations or individuals to approach the complexity of large firms so as to meet standards. Plus, so what if some businesses, to be done responsibly, will require that certain care be taken?. It doesn’t affect most people since this sort of taxing tends to be targeted.

To ignore this potential taxing approach altogether, without a substitute to achieve the effect, is to allow the public to continue getting shafted or else prohibit manufacturing or commerce of many types.

Jose_X (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

[Keep in mind this comment is to throw out ideas; there are many details the devil can ruin.]

What about the fact that disposable money is very different than money needed for basic needs? These two should be distinct moneys. We have some of that today with food stamps for those at the very bottom (social security for later years in life; progressive taxes to some degree; etc), but that system does not enable everyone to have basic security on a not too long work week. We have significant inflation in house prices and food prices for example (and with people working many hours, this ups the ante.. rather than these being set off a say 20 hour work week).

If we had to types of earnings. Earning for basic needs where there was a significant attempt to value all skills and keep salaries within say a small factor (4x), find jobs for everyone, and keep the price of certain basic goods within a certain relative range to match this type of income.. And then type two would be earnings for disposables where there would be much greater flexibility.

Everyone would be required to work at the “basic” rates/dollars for part of their yearly income. The end result might be that those with less skill or less desire to work, for whatever the reason, would still be able to cover all their basics with low risk and without having to work a full week. The rest of the week would be much more lopsided. All would have incentive to work in order to gain any disposable income. If you did not work hard enough in your basic commitment, you would be shooting yourself in the foot if you expected to work the rest of the week for decent or even any disposable income.

What this does is it creates distinct market interactions for markets like “basic” housing and “basic” food vs for many other goods that might be considered extras (a very decent house, car, food, plus boats, planes, furs, money to go out frequently, etc).

Again, note that we do have this system to the degree we guarantee some sort of safety net for people, but the problem with our implementation (moral hazards) is that there is a wide gap between the work you put in and what you get at that low level. Everyone should be covered. You shouldn’t be covered only if you make very little or nothing. Everyone should be covered and jobs should be guaranteed for all.

To sustain this, the second-half-of-week market is tapped. But note that there is no reason to have a weak standard of living. We have enough land in the US. Barring poisoning or destroying it, there is enough for our population many times over. Ditto for housing. Maintenance of a house is not a savage cost. Many skilled people can build and improve houses, so labor and supplies should not be a problem. Same thing for farming to get the basics for the nation.

Many people might not work the rest of the week at some point in time in their lives, but they would have time to develop skills and try to come up with their own jobs (entrepreneurship).

The motivation for this system is that business, trade skill, and accumulated inheritance (from the lives of others or from earlier years in your life) are the main reason some people work not too much harder or longer than others (if at all) yet make much much much much more money. Why is a nation that requires many services and products and where the general population is in theory ultimately in control all the land and resources, going to favor by so much a minority of people with fortunate condition and/or skill in one very narrow area?

You could say that a “free market” separates income and wealth based on value to society, but that is nonsense because of the starting lopsidedness in early childhood; the lopsidedness throughout life (eg, information access possible once you have accumulated money or power); and the feed forward system of those ahead to more easily move even further ahead [eg, the *same skill level* in investing will yield a millionaire much more money than will be the case for someone with $10K; thus, the relative gains of these two individuals will diverge further all else being equal].

If the wealthy need “incentives”, how about the many workers who don’t get to share in profits of their labor? What motivation do they have to work hard when they know that someone else reap the vast majority of fruits?

At the end of the day, all money is the People’s money. All who have money or land require the full strength of the People’s military and police/judiciary to protect those assets from those who have different beliefs about who “deserves” what.

BTW, why do corporations frequently get similar laws and standards as humans? This only happens because, as a People with representatives in government, we have decided to tickle the fancies of the very wealthy rather than to give more people a fighting chance. Corporations are ideal for preserving wealth and that is the primary concern of those with wealth today (to preserve it).

Anyway, sorry if I got *very* side-tracked. There is much that can be considered here. Transparency for a broad audience helps that broad audience. A government of the People only makes sense if those managing the representation part are being transparent to the People.

Beta (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: unsolicited advice

Jose_X, please try to be more succinct. Some of your ideas are interesting, but you bury them in text that is much too long. Also, much of your philosophy is so unrealistic that I can’t tell whether you’re serious or just trying to make A Modest Proposal. Consider:

“Everyone would be required to work at the “basic” rates/dollars for part of their yearly income. The end result might be that those with less skill or less desire to work, for whatever the reason, would still be able to cover all their basics…”

Try to think this through before you move on to your next point.

DeAngelo Lampkin (profile) says:

What is in these reports?

What exactly is the purpose of the CRS and what’s contained in those reports?

It’s being implied that something dastardly is taking place, but if that were true, wouldn’t we know about it by now (since it’s been wiki-leaked).

-DeAngelo -hassle free sharing and voting – hassle free sharing and voting of Sheen!

Patricia Ann Burns says:

Gov. the tie that binds

We have been snowed in and if something doesn’t change, one has to wonder how long (hopefully no too many lifetimed!)to get the information re: or Gov. available to We The People. I am writing a book entitled “ARE You IN BALANCE” Back to the Basics. I am doing sectiion on National Politics. I will make “spread the word” in the book and call attention to this website. Thank you. There is yet to be a safe that can’t be cracked. Collectively we will find it. Go Team and THANK ALL FOR WORKING FOR “ALL OF US”. pab

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