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At Congressional Research Service, A Long History of Pointed Questions

The anxiety over how to serve lawmakers without alienating them resurfaced in 2004, when former CRS analyst Louis Fisher wrote an article for an outside publication that took a personal stance on the Iraq War.

“We must all see to it that our ability to serve Congress ... is not compromised by even the appearance that we have our own agenda,” then-CRS Director Daniel Mulhollan said in a response, warning that analysts “might be seen as so set in their personal views that they are no longer to be trusted to provide objective research and analysis.”

Fisher fired back: “If the front office puts emphasis on neutrality, balance and even-handedness, there is little room for careful, expert analysis.”

An analyst’s personal politics might also undermine his work on a controversial topic. In Hungerford’s case, it doesn’t help that he served in the Office of Management and Budget and the Social Security Administration in the final years of Bill Clinton’s presidency and that he has contributed more than $7,000 to Democratic campaigns since 2008.

The CRS doesn’t have a policy that requires analysts to disclose campaign contributions or party affiliations or that forbids them from pursuing outside writing and speaking opportunities as long as they make it clear they don’t speak for the agency.

Which is also a fine line: Morris Davis, a former Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, military commissions prosecutor, was fired from the CRS in 2009 after penning a Wall Street Journal opinion piece critical of the Obama administration’s policy on detainees.

Hungerford in an interview with Roll Call said he wouldn’t comment on the specifics of his case or the general state of the CRS, saying for the record only that he intended to remain at the agency where he enjoys his job and respects his colleagues.

Other analysts interviewed defended Hungerford and his report. They added that individual political beliefs have no bearing on analysts’ nonpartisan professionalism, and a strict review process is in place to guard against any breaches in that professionalism.

Hungerford was not able to separate his personal views from his professional work, according to Hatch spokeswoman Antonia Ferrier.

“In [Washington] ... people have perspectives on politics, parties and candidates. That’s par for the course,” said Ferrier, whose boss is one of Hungerford’s main critics. “That’s why it is even more important and absolutely essential that CRS maintain the strictest standards in terms of analysis so they can stay above reproach.”

No one interviewed for this story suggested they had a problem with the political activity policy, or lack thereof. Everyone had different ideas on how to avoid future controversies.

Schuman said all CRS reports should be made public rather than published first on a Congress-only website. A senior GOP aide suggested the current review system for the CRS needs to emulate that of the Congressional Budget Office, an “independent, transparent peer-review process involving input from outsiders.”

CRS spokeswoman Janine D’Addario suggested in a statement that the agency was very much aware of the issues at stake.

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