Shameful: House Panel Votes Down Plan To Make Public Domain Congressional Research Public

from the a-total-failure dept

For many, many years, we've complained about the fact that research reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) are kept secret. CRS is basically a really good, non-partisan research organization that tends to do very useful and credible research, when tasked to do so by members of Congress. The results, as works created by the federal government, are in the public domain. But the public never gets access to most of them. The reports are available to members of Congress, of course, but then it's up to the members who have access to them to actually release them to the public... or not. And most don't. Back in 2009, Wikileaks made news by releasing almost 7,000 CRS reports that had previously been secret. Since at least 2011, we've been writing about attempts to release these reports publicly, and nothing has happened.

In fact, Congress seems quite fearful of the public getting its hands on timely, credible, non-partisan and useful research paid for by taxpayers. Because it undermines the partisan fighting and tribalism around certain policy platforms that are built on myths, rather than evidence. For years, Congress has refused to adequately fund the CRS, and has tried to turn the useful researchers within CRS into free lackeys, rather than having them work on useful research.

In 2012, an effort was made to make CRS research available to the public and it went nowhere. And it looks like the same thing has just happened again. The House Appropriations Committee has voted down the bill by a large margin:
At a time when highly informed voters might seem like a good thing, the Appropriations Committee voted down, 18-32, an amendment from Reps. Mike Quigely (D-Ill.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that would have made it easier for the public to access Congressional Research Service reports.
For what it's worth, CRS itself has historically opposed this, out of fear that it will put more pressure on its research team, and perhaps even lead them to being more fearful of writing something that is totally accurate, but politically unwelcome. And, some in Congress argue that such fears might bubble up to Congress as well:
But the chairman of the Legislative Branch Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Tom Graves (R-Ga.), argued that members needed to be "really, really careful with this." He noted that CRS was an arm of Congress, and he didn't want members to be afraid to ask CRS to prepare reports on controversial issues for fear that their requests would become public.
But, that's meaningless in the context of this bill, which wouldn't apply to the smaller reports done in direct response to questions from Congressional members. It would only apply to the larger reports that CRS creates for every member of Congress.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz similarly made completely bogus claims about this bill, saying that it would slow down the research that CRS does:
"I have serious concerns about changing the role that the Congressional Research Service plays," Wasserman Schulz said, arguing that it would not help members to have CRS go through a "long and arduous approval process."
This is bullshit for a bunch of reasons starting with the fact that the work is paid for by taxpayers and is in the public domain. Wasserman Schulz is showing pretty blatant contempt for the public with this claim. But, also, her claims are not true. Since any CRS document already has the chance of being released to the public, CRS already goes through a careful review process. Dan Schuman from Demand Progress has the details:
In fact, CRS already puts reports through an arduous, multi-stage review process because they know the reports will become publicly available. Thus, equal public access would not change the process at all. She also argued that releasing the reports would change the role of CRS in providing advice to members of Congress at the discretion of the Member. In fact, the general distribution reports that are the focus of the bill have nothing to do with confidential advice to Members.
So, again, it makes you wonder, why is Congress so intent on hiding this taxpayer funded research -- which has a history of being credible, factual and useful -- from the public? Could it be that an informed public is considered a bad thing to many members of Congress?

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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 3:48pm

    A good thing to be sure, but to who?

    At a time when highly informed voters might seem like a good thing, the Appropriations Committee voted down, 18-32, an amendment from Reps. Mike Quigely (D-Ill.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that would have made it easier for the public to access Congressional Research Service reports.

    Voters having access to non-partisan, carefully researched info is great if the position a given politician holds or is proposing is backed by evidence and has been fact-checked to be as accurate as possible, but if they're pushing things that say, might not be 'well acquainted with the truth' then 'highly informed voters' is the last thing they'd want. It's a lot more difficult to lie to someone if they have evidence that contradicts what you're saying after all.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      FeRDNYC (profile), 26 May 2016 @ 12:27am

      Re: A good thing to be sure, but to who?

      It's a lot more difficult to lie to someone if they have evidence that contradicts what you're saying after all.
      And it's even harder to get away with lying to someone, when they know you have the evidence that contradicts what you're saying. I think that's Congress' biggest fear, in making CRS reports public. It means they have to own all of that information, instead of just picking and choosing the facts that they find convenient.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 4:00pm

    Goose...gander...do they relate????

    I see no reason each and every report done by CRS should not be immediately uploaded to a public web server at the same time it is reported to Congress or Congresscritters as the case may be, with notifications going to the entire press corp and anyone else who requests such notification, after all, we paid for it. For that matter, I see no reason Congressional constituent shouldn't to be able to make requests of the CRS to properly inform Congress about critical issues they may have been misinformed about. There might need to be some kind of filter for this, but not by Congress.

    To protect them from accusations or representations or acctual political intent or influence, they should be subject to the same kind of protections as whistle-blowers...oh...wait...umm

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      beltorak (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 3:05pm

      Re: Goose...gander...do they relate????

      You mean they should be prosecuted under the espionage act for making the government look bad? No wonder even the CRS staff doesn't support the notion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 4:04pm

    Highly informed voters...

    I understand they are a rarity, and that political candidates are fiercely afraid of them, or at least their party shills are. What I don't understand is why they should not get more information. It is the not very informed votes who decide elections, it is the uninformed, follow the party line voters who decide elections.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 4:06pm

      Re: Highly informed voters...

      Proof reading is a good thing. I wish I had practiced it here.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 4:07pm

      Re: Highly informed voters...

      Still waiting for that 'Sad but true' button...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 4:24pm

        Re: Re: Highly informed voters...

        You don't think it is because Mike doesn't listen...there's a technical, or practical, or aesthetic reason not to include it. Just like the edit button...

        On the practical side, might it not open the flood gates to other obsequious requests, or would the sad but true voting mess up the weekly recap? Hmm, maybe it is the weekly recap format that is holding things up.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          JoeCool (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 6:13pm

          Re: Re: Re: Highly informed voters...

          Actually, a number of buttons are needed, the worst being EDIT. Sad but true would be nice, as well as Well duh. One I'd like, but probably won't ever see, I still think I'm right even though you agree with me. :)

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 7:02am

          Re: Re: Re: Highly informed voters...

          I'd demand a 'Not Even Wrong' button.
          Maybe an 'Insight via Idiocy' button, too.
          Definitely needs a 'Please Stop Helping!' one.

          Better cut myself off before someone hits the 'Just Stop - Please - Just Stop' button.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coyne Tibbets (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 10:20am

      Re: Highly informed voters...

      There's nothing despotic leaders hate more than an informed voter.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2016 @ 4:15pm

    We need a leaker in the CRS...

    ...in order to ensure that the PROPERTY of the American people is given to them without any further delay or any interference by the morons in Congress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Personanongrata, 23 May 2016 @ 4:43pm

    Self-Preservation

    Could it be that an informed public is considered a bad thing to many members of Congress?

    Yes indeed. Most of the general public would be astounded at how deep the US governments "rabbit hole" goes and how badly they've been repeatedly sold out and used by their duplicitous "representatives".

    The liberation of the truth may even shock Americans into demanding accountability for the generations of congressional mal/mis/non-feasance that have cost this nation dearly in lives/liberty lost and trillions of dollars in productivity stolen in order to fund innumerous boondoggles of every shape, size and color.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2016 @ 6:28pm

    Highly informed voters? Bah!

    Most Congresscritters would prefer that many voters continue to be swayed by and vote for the one with the most yard signs during the campaign.

    Sorry, I guess I think just as highly of Congress as they do of me.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    HegemonicDistortion (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 6:52pm

    Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz similarly made completely bogus claims...

    I;m not usually one to comment on style, but "bogus" is redundant when you already have Debbie Wasserman Schultz in the sentence.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    seedeevee (profile), 23 May 2016 @ 7:53pm

    Debbie Wasserman Schultz

    Debbie Wasserman Schultz should always be within three words of bullshit, also.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 May 2016 @ 9:30pm

    From the beginning any tax payer funded research should automatically be public domain and made freely available to the public immediately, period.

    This should not take a new law now to make this happen and it certainly should not be something that can be locked away and blocked from being made public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 5:13am

    Release by the Members

    If Quigley and Rigell want CRS reports to be released, could they not perform a blanket release themselves? At least the Reports for Congress subset should be available to every member.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    DannyB (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 6:13am

    It is simple to explain

    ... again, it makes you wonder, why is Congress so intent on hiding this taxpayer funded research -- which has a history of being credible, factual and useful -- from the public?
    If this information were made public, then it wouldn't have any value. Keeping it private makes it valuable. (Ask Disney why their DVDs are only available for sale for limited times, and then not again for many years.)

    If this information didn't have any value, then what incentive would there be for Congress to have the research done in the first place?

    Furthermore, if it were easy to debunk the statements of congresscritters, then this would undermine their business model. How would these artists get paid for their amazing creative works of fiction? There would be no more incentive to create such fact free fanciful tales for political purposes if this information were made public.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 6:40am

    Re: any tax payer funded research ... should be public domain

    Not so much no,

    I can understand having a Data Center for the Resolution of Congressional Ignorance. (better name, yes?) It is probably more efficient since a lot of questions Congressmen ask, are likely redundant. And if the data is public it will effect accuracy, which would negate the purpose of having the CRS in the first place.

    I don't fault congress for wanting accurate data, and recognizing their own corruption as a factor in tainting that data. And really part of the issue here, is that the constituencies don't want accurate data which is why the biggest liars win. So you can understand; after winning a campaign based on fundamentalist tripe; a congressman might actually want to know if anything he said during the campaign was true.

    The opacity of the CRS, is a practical resolution to a problem that shouldn't exist in the first place. That said, there is a question of priorities in terms of making the fed more transparent. If I were to prioritize the impact of opacity on the execution of civic duty for all federal institutions, the CRS would be fairly low on that list.

    I get it. Yes, it is unjust. So is stepping in dog shit. Worry about the rabid hungry wolf that left it there, not the turd.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 7:29am

      Re: Re: any tax payer funded research ... should be public domain

      "Worry about the rabid hungry wolf that left it there, not the turd."

      Why not worry about both?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 24 May 2016 @ 3:47pm

        Re: Re: Re: any tax payer funded research ... should be public domain

        Because the turd will no longer be clinging to your shoe once you start running for your life. (O.K. bad metaphore)

        My point was that the issue with CRS gets fixed without effort, when the legislative process itself becomes more transparent. I see it as a chicken and egg problem. Fix Citizens United, the Dictionary act of 1871, the DOE, the DOJ, and the SEC. After that the CRS will fix itself in all likelyhood, since Congress will have less to hide.

        Before doing any of the hard stuff, making CRS subject to the same partisanship that the GAO has to suffer under is like rearranging Hellen Kellers furniture.

        Or at least that is the theory.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Whatever(parody), 24 May 2016 @ 8:29am

    Think of what this means for the distributors (strike through) artists! Less works in the public domain means less works that the artist must compete with and so they can charge even more for their works!! This is a victory for the artists!!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jlaprise (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 10:57am

    Available CRS Reports

    I'd like to point out that Steven Aftergood's Secrecy Project at the Federation of American Scientists has been publishing leaked CRS reports for a long time.

    https://fas.org/category/crs/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Designerfx (profile), 24 May 2016 @ 6:18pm

    FOIA?

    Could we simply FOIA all CRS research and index it somewhere?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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