Quigley, Lance, Leahy and McCain Make Bipartisan, Bicameral Push for Public Access to CRS Reports
WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representatives Mike Quigley (IL-05), Co-Chair of the Transparency Caucus, and Leonard Lance (NJ-07), along with Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act in an effort to increase transparency and access to non-confidential Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. The legislation directs the Congressional Research Service to publish its reports on govinfo.gov – a site managed by the Government Printing Office (GPO) that will serve as a one-stop shop for public information.
“Opening CRS reports to the public would empower our constituents with vital information about the key issues, policies, and budgets we’re debating here in Congress, increasing government transparency and giving the public the tools they need to hold their government accountable,” said Rep. Quigley. “It’s time to allow the American people to access the same neutral, unbiased, nonpartisan information that we in Congress rely on every day. I am proud to introduce the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act with Senators Leahy and McCain and Congressman Lance, and I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle until non-confidential CRS reports are open to all.”
“It is 2016, any student, reporter, taxpayer or interested citizen should be able to view these reports online. These reports for paid for by taxpayer funds, the taxpayers should be able to read them. It is past time to end the era of secrecy to these reports and open them to the benefit of research, reporting and public information,” said Rep. Lance.
“Outside of Congress, for decades these reports have been ‘public’ only for those who can afford to hire a lawyer or a lobbyist, pay a subscription fee, or who can afford to physically travel to Washington to visit the Office of Public Records. That’s not very ‘public’ and does nothing for the average citizen in Vermont or the rest of the country who does not have easy access to Washington,” said Senator Leahy, chief sponsor of the Senate bill. “Our bill will open up this invaluable, taxpayer-funded resource for use by all Americans and by schools and libraries. CRS was founded on principles of nonpartisanship and the belief that accurate, thoughtful information should inform the policy conversations of the day. It is a testament to the best ideals of Congress, and all Americans should benefit from the work and resources it provides.”
“I’m proud to support this bipartisan, good-government bill to provide the American people with free access to the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) high-quality, unbiased and fact-based policy reports,” said Senator McCain. “By making these taxpayer-funded reports free and publicly available, Congress will be able to better serve their constituents, and voters will have access to an invaluable tool to make informed decisions on topics ranging from Obamacare and federal spending to tax reform and other important issues.”
A coalition of 39 civil society and grassroots organizations, libraries, trade associations, think tanks, and businesses from across the political spectrum released this statement in support of the legislation:
“We, the undersigned organizations, endorse the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act of 2016. The legislation provides the public timely, comprehensive, free access to Congressional Research Service reports. We commend Sens. John McCain and Patrick Leahy and Reps. Leonard Lance and Mike Quigley for their tireless efforts to ensure equitable access for all Americans to these documents, which provide insight into the important issues before Congress and are paid for by taxpayers. We urge the Senate's Committee on Rules and Administration and the House of Representative's Committee on House Administration to speedily approve the legislation.”
The organizations are: American Association of Law Libraries, American Commitment, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Bill of Rights Defense Committee & Defending Dissent Foundation, Campaign for Liberty, Center for Data Innovation, Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Common Cause, Charles E. Shain Library at Connecticut College, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste, CSU Sacramento , Data Coalition, Demand Progress, Evans Library - Florida Institute of Technology, Free Government Information, FreedomWorks, Heritage Action for America, Hesburgh Libraries - University of Notre Dame, King University Libraries, Liberty Coalition, National Coalition for History, National Security Archive, National Security Counselors, National Taxpayers Union, New America's Open Technology Institute, OpenTheGovernment.org, Project On Government Oversight (POGO), Public Citizen, Quorum, R Street Institute, Stanford University Libraries, Sunlight Foundation, Taxpayers for Common Sense, Taxpayers Protection Alliance, The Niskanen Center, Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), and University of Missouri – Columbia.
For more than two decades, Congress has wrestled with whether to systematically distribute non-confidential CRS reports to the public. In the 113th Congress, Reps. Quigley and Lance introduced the Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Act, which would amend the current law to allow the public release of congressional reports that CRS produces. In 2015, Reps. Quigley and Lance introduced House Resolution 34, which directs the Clerk of the House of Representatives to maintain a centralized public database for non-confidential CRS reports. The representatives also hosted a bipartisan Transparency Caucus briefing during last year’s International Open Access Week on the issue. During the Legislative Branch appropriations committee mark up for FY2016, Rep. Quigley offered an amendment that would require CRS to keep an updated list of their published reports on their publically available website. Rep. Quigley’s amendment would have increased transparency of what reports are available for the public to request.
In October 2015, a letter was sent by former employees of the CRS that calls for “timely, comprehensive free public access to CRS reports” to a group of Congressional lawmakers with the power to make the CRS reports public. The letter goes on to make a strong argument for CRS to publish their reports online in a way for everyday citizens to easily access them.
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a little-known but highly regarded division of the Library of Congress. The research service is by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress and congressional staff. CRS is governed by requirements for accuracy, objectivity, balance, and nonpartisanship – the very sort of analysis sought and valued by engaged constituents. As a dedicated congressional support agency, CRS is joined by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in providing Congress with information and analysis that is unequaled by any other national legislature. While GAO and CBO reports are already available to the public, CRS reports are not.
The bipartisan Transparency Caucus serves as a resource for Members of Congress on bipartisan, open government initiatives. The caucus promotes legislation that requires federal information to be freely accessible, as well as advocates for new programs that support transparency.