Make CRS Web Site Public, Report Urges

Posted February 7, 2003 at 5:21pm

A special Web site operated by the Congressional Research Service that provides up-to-the-minute information on legislation, committee schedules and other valuable information should be made available to the public, a government watchdog group recommends in a new report.

The Project on Government Oversight also renewed calls for CRS, an arm of the Library of Congress, to make its vast number of detailed policy briefs, studies and reports readily available to the public.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are expected to reintroduce legislation this week to open up the vault of CRS documents to the public. A version of the bill was introduced last Congress but never made it the floor.

CRS, which produces hundreds of highly respected reports with comprehensive, nonpartisan analysis, operates with a staff of about 700 and an annual budget of $81 million. Library officials have strongly resisted any attempts to make their information available to the public in a comprehensive manner.

Indeed, the POGO report found that CRS secures its information on the Web with heavily reinforced firewalls that block attempts by anyone in the public to gain access.

“Those who elect the legislators are being denied direct access to a major wealth of information that directly affects the decisions of those who legislate,” the report said.

“Making certain types of CRS products and its Web sites widely available to the public would provide citizens with the type of high-quality information necessary to actively and knowledgeably participate in public debate about current issues and the workings of our government,” the report added.

A special CRS legislative information Web site, available only to Members of Congress and Congressional staff, provides invaluable up-to-the-minute legislative information on draft bills, legislative history, committee tracking data and other essential tools to track the progress of a bill. But the public is blocked from accessing that site and is instead diverted to the Library’s THOMAS Web site, which has far less crucial information, the report said.

While a small number of lawmakers make selective CRS reports available on their office Web sites, the report said there is no publicly available master list of all the current CRS products.