Though probably un-scheduled, the pending expansion of access policy re. reports of the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is super-timely. CRS staff research and reports are valued as authoritative , timely and consequential resources, heretofore reserved for members of Congress, their staff, and info mavens. . Extending access to the general public is something like a digital fireworks display for seekers of authoritative information.
For decades the debate has centered on one key question: Does “confidentiality” demand that the work product of CRS staff serve Congress members and staff only, or does it rightfully belong to the public. In fact, though insider seekers of truth had routes to the motherlode access was a practice more honored in the breach than in the practice.
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the less-than-free flow of information https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congressional_Research_Service_reports. And that has been the practice for decades.
Until last week when access advocates announced that there is a light at the end of the legislative tunnel. Members of the House Appropriations Committee passed the legislative branch appropriations bill which includes “strong language” mandating that all non-confidential CRS reports be made publicly available.” Though no legislative initiative is ever “over till it’s over” hopes are high that the full House will concur and that the Senate will pass a companion bill. With all due respect to CRS and the virtue of solid research and truth-telling, this bill will probably not make headlines or warrant a filibuster. And yet, in the current environment, access to authoritative, unbiased, current information matters more than ever!
In his comments on the legislative state of things the American Library Association spokesperson wrote this:
The Committee has debated this issue for several years, and after considering debate and testimony from entities inside the legislative branch and beyond the Committee believes the publishing of CRS reports will not impede CRS’s core mission in any impactful way and is in keeping with the Committee’s priority of full transparency to the American people. Within 90 days of enactment of this act CRS is directed to submit a plan to its oversight committees detailing its recommendations for implementing this effort as well as any associated cost estimates.
The timing is ideal. As Americans celebrate the 4th with fireworks, parades and picnics this small step for the democracy is a giant step for an informed democracy. The quantity and quality of CRS reports is beyond belief – Check out the history of CRS publications here: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/
Assuming that this legendary level of quality is allowed and funded to continue, we will be better informed citizens, capable of more informed decision-making. Something like the forefathers had in mind when they signed their names….
Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.
Abraham Lincoln, 1861