Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman (ID-CT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) introduced S. Res. 118 on April 30 to provide the public with access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) publications online. We are grateful to Sen. Lieberman and Sen. McCain and six co-sponsors, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), for introducing this important legislation. Similar resolutions have been introduced in the past few Congresses by co-sponsors Sens. Lieberman, McCain, and Leahy.
CRS is the non-partisan public policy research arm of Congress that produces reports for members of Congress on any legislative issue. Although reports are funded with taxpayer dollars, only members of Congress and their staff can access them online through CRS. However, constituents may request particular reports from their members of Congress if they know a report is available.
Web sites such as Open CRS, Wikileaks, and the University of North Texas Libraries have collectively made thousands of reports freely available online, and other third-party services offer the reports for a fee. Not surprisingly, public access to CRS reports was the first of ten most requested documents in the recent Show Us the Data report by OpenTheGovernment.org and the Center for Democracy & Technology.
S. Res 118 would create a centralized electronic system that would allow members of the public to search for CRS reports and issue briefs. It would also require that an index of reports and issue briefs be made publicly available.
In a press release on S. Res. 118, Chairman Lieberman said that,
“CRS produces reports that inform Members of Congress and their staffs on key issues of the day. Our constituents deserve widespread public access to these reports that their taxpayer dollars pay for, but they are currently available to the public only on a haphazard basis. This legislation would require the development of a comprehensive system that would allow the taxpayers to find CRS reports easily and access the most accurate and up-to-date information.”
On March 4, 2009, Chairman Lieberman had sent a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Chuck Schumer (D-NY), in which Sen. Lieberman asked Sen. Schumer to back his efforts to provide no-fee online access to CRS reports. We commend Sen. Lieberman for his leadership on this issue and hope that Sen. Schumer acts quickly to ensure public access to these taxpayer-funded reports.
Online public access to CRS reports will be among our top priorities to cover at the AALL 2009 Day on the Hill Advocacy Training on July 24th in Washington, D.C. If you’d like to learn more about this issue and have the chance to meet with your members of Congress and their staff on our key legislative priorities, please RSVP for the Advocacy Training by June 15.
[Posted by Emily Feldman]