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?