In­ter­nal re­ports for Congress made avail­able to public

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY STEPHEN DINAN

Congress’ trea­sure trove of in­ter­nal re­ports writ­ten by the au­thor­i­ta­tive re­search staff at the Li­brary of Congress went on­line last Tues­day, giv­ing av­er­age Amer­i­cans ac­cess to the same in­for­ma­tion their law­mak­ers see.

The re­ports, cov­er­ing is­sues such as bor­der se­cu­rity, un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance pay­ments, and build­ing and nam­ing Navy ships, have been jeal­ously guarded for years by some on Capi­tol Hill. They ar­gued that the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice’s work was in­tended only for law­mak­ers’ eyes and feared mak­ing it public could skew an­a­lysts’ work.

But trans­parency ad­vo­cates won the fight. Lan­guage writ­ten into the mas­sive spend­ing bill ap­proved this year de­mands that CRS post its work to the public.

“The era of se­crecy is over, and CRS re­ports are now com­ing on­line for all to read,” said Rep. Leonard Lance, New Jer­sey Re­pub­li­can, who said the move is “a win for good gover­nance.”

That could to­tal thou­sands of re­ports a year, law­mak­ers said, though just 628 re­ports were avail­able.

Users gain ac­cess to the re­ports through a key­word search at CRSRe­ports.congress. gov. There is no ob­vi­ous link to browse all the re­ports — func­tion­al­ity that is avail­able to staffers in­side the Capi­tol — though en­ter­ing a blank search will bring up a list of the re­ports that have been posted.

Carla Hay­den, the li­brar­ian of Congress, said the sys­tem was “de­signed to be as user­friendly as pos­si­ble.”

“In keep­ing with our de­sire to en­gage users with the li­brary and its ma­te­ri­als, we are happy to see these re­ports put to the widest use pos­si­ble,” she said in an on­line an­nounce­ment.

The site ap­pears to be up to date: Last Mon­day’s re­ports on the han­dling of il­le­gal im­mi­grant chil­dren, U.S. pol­icy to­ward Afghanista­n and fed­eral grants to lo­cal schools were on­line as of Tues­day morn­ing. But a re­port avail­able in­ter­nally on fed­eral agency li­aisons to Capi­tol Hill was left off the public site.

The public page also does not in­clude CRS’s le­gal memos or is­sue briefs, which are avail­able in­ter­nally on Capi­tol Hill.

That means the new Li­brary of Congress page won’t yet re­place pri­vate web­sites such as EveryCRSRe­, run by De­mand Progress, which posts the data thanks to sub­mis­sions from con­gres­sional of­fices.

Daniel Schu­man, pol­icy di­rec­tor at De­mand Progress, has spent years ad­vo­cat­ing for the Li­brary of Congress to pub­lish the re­ports. He said this week’s move is im­por­tant sym­bol­i­cally but falls short of what the law re­quires.

“We’ve crossed the Ru­bi­con,” he said. “That is a sig­nif­i­cant psy­cho­log­i­cal change for them. The down­side is they’re only pub­lish­ing a fifth to a tenth of the re­ports they’re sup­posed to.”

In ad­di­tion to the le­gal memos and is­sue briefs, the data set goes back only to the be­gin­ning of 2018. That ex­cludes thou­sands of re­ports still con­sid­ered cur­rent by CRS dat­ing back years.

The agency says it is work­ing to get those on­line in the com­ing months.

The re­ports are avail­able only in PDF for­mat. On Capi­tol Hill, they can be ac­cessed as text. Mr. Schu­man said text would be eas­ier to ac­cess from de­vices such as smart­phones or tablets.

He also sug­gested the abil­ity to sign up for alerts when re­ports are up­dated.

He said he reached out to the li­brary with sug­ges­tions but was ig­nored.

“I would love to close up shop and go home and do some­thing else,” he said. “They should be the au­thor­i­ta­tive, com­plete, fi­nal source for all non­con­fi­den­tial CRS re­ports. That’s what the law says.”

Some CRS re­ports amount to up­dates on where bills stand in the leg­isla­tive process or give his­tory and back­ground to long-stand­ing govern­ment poli­cies. Some re­ports, though, in­clude ground­break­ing anal­y­sis or le­gal con­clu­sions that are news­wor­thy.

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