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Public Trust Through Public Access to CRS Reports

Nov 17, 2015
Speeches

WASHINGTON -- U.S. Representative Mike Quigley ( IL-05) urged his colleagues on the House floor to support House Resolution 34, a bill that would make non-confidential CRS reports public.

Below is a video and transcript of the speech.

Mr. Speaker,

When the average American wants to learn about a policy, where do they turn for information?

Often, the answer is the 24-hour news cycle. Often filled by talking heads and sensationalism,

Or social media and message boards, where anyone can post anything – credible or completely misinformed.

The American public is no longer being informed by the likes of Cronkite and Murrow, and it is making our public debate increasingly partisan, polarized and misinformed.

What few realize, or like to admit, is that there is a way Congress can help elevate the debate and educate our constituents with neutral, unbiased, non-partisan information from the Congressional Research Service, or CRS.

For over 100 years, CRS has served Congress’ publicly-funded think tank.

Because they serve policy-makers on both sides of the aisle, CRS researchers produce exemplary work that is accurate, non-partisan, and easy to understand.

Despite the fact that CRS receives over $100 million from taxpayers each year, its reports are not made available to the public.

Instead, constituents must request individual reports through a Congressional office.

This has led to several undesirable consequences:

Well-connected lobbyists have the easiest access to these reports, unlike the average American.

Second, while non-profits make some reports available online, there is no guarantee that they will remain available and up-to-date.

And most outrageously, a small industry has sprung up reselling these reports for exorbitant fees.

In other words, businesses are making a profit by reselling publicly-funded work – work that ultimately belongs to the people.

Keeping these reports in the hands of Congress and Beltway insiders is selfish and indefensible.

I understand that allowing the public to access these reports will not answer all of the questions constituents have about the work that happens on Capitol Hill.

But it underscores the broader need for increased transparency in Congress and government.

Public trust in government has reached historic lows, causing too many Americans to simply give up on Washington and the mission of government.

The best way to rebuild the public’s trust and promote a more efficient and effective government is by furthering government accountability through increased transparency.

It is time to recognize that educators, students, media, and everyday citizens deserve access to CRS reports.

And that this access gives our constituents vital information about the issues, policies, and budgets we’re debating here in Congress.

That’s why Congressman Lance and I introduced House Resolution 34, which directs the Clerk of the House of Representatives to maintain a centralized public database for non-confidential CRS reports.

This resolution gives the public tools to cut through the misinformation they face, it gives them access to something that they are already paying for, and it empowers the American people to hold Congress accountable for the decisions we make.

The steps towards a more open and transparent government may seem modest to some, but in reality they have a huge impact on how government serves the people.

The mission of government matters, and if we are truly here to serve the people, then we owe it to them to operate in an open and transparent manner.

Let’s give the public the information we are basing our decisions on. I urge my colleagues to stand up for transparency and accountability by supporting House Resolution 34.

Information is power, and that is exactly what the American people deserve.

Thank you and I yield back.