Library IG Questions CRS Policy

Posted November 6, 2007 at 6:52pm

The Library of Congress inspector general said Tuesday he was concerned about allegations that a Congressional Research Service division works too closely with Congressional committees, and he plans to meet with LOC officials to discuss the issue.

The meeting comes on the heels of an investigation into the firing of Wayne Upshaw, a former CRS employee who claims that the Domestic Social Policy Division works with lawmakers on legislation while also analyzing those same policies.

Inspector General Karl Schnornagel wouldn’t comment on what the investigation unearthed. But he said he would be meeting with Librarian of Congress James Billington and CRS Director Dan Mulhollan to discuss his concerns related to Upshaw’s allegations.

“I think this is a pretty important topic and if it’s something relatively minor, obviously it wouldn’t probably justify me talking to the Librarian of Congress,” Schnornagel said.

The investigation began when Upshaw, while still employed by CRS, sent a memo to Schnornagel outlining what he saw as the improper relationship between Congressional committee chairmen and the Domestic Social Policy Division. Upshaw said he had several run-ins with DSP during his short tenure as deputy assistant director of the Government and Finance Division. Specifically, he said his division’s reports were unfairly controlled by DSP employees who worked closely with committees on related legislation.

“The foxes were left guarding the henhouse and, not surprisingly, DSP successfully preserved the stated policy preferences of the Committee Chairs by improperly diminishing the rigor, interest and value of the G&F higher education studies,” Upshaw wrote in the memo, according to a copy provided by Upshaw.

In one instance, he said, a G&F report critical of pending education legislation was cleared by his department and by CRS as a whole, only to be taken down within days and rewritten with heavy input from DSP. In fact, there are two different reports on Stafford loans with two different viewpoints released within two weeks of each other — the first argues that most education borrowers are not burdened by their debt, while the second writes that there is no “readily available” data on Stafford borrowers and thus the burden can’t be calculated.

Upshaw sent the memo about one month after learning that he would be fired — an official notification said he needed to improve his relationships with other analysts. As a probationary employee, he was not allowed a formal appeal and left CRS on Oct. 12. Now unemployed and looking for a job, he said he plans to sue CRS for race discrimination (Upshaw is black) and what he calls “whistle-blower issues.”

The whole situation, he said, reveals a system that needs more checks and balances as well as more Congressional oversight.

“I think what needs to happen is the committees with oversight over the CRS operation, they need to do an independent investigation of this,” he said. “This can’t be left up to Keystone Kops. It shouldn’t be.”

Schnornagel said his investigations mainly focused on Upshaw’s termination and only touched on his allegations regarding DSP’s policies. But he said he will discuss with Billington “the apparent conflict that [Upshaw] reports about how CRS can serve in an unbiased manner” if some employees both work with legislators and review those legislators’ policies.

However, Schnornagel wouldn’t get into specifics about the investigation, citing a policy that keeps such reports confidential unless Congress requests them. Mulhollan also refused to comment, only reasserting in a statement that “objectivity and nonpartisanship are central to the CRS mission.”

DSP researches domestic policy and social program issues, placing a “high priority” on working directly with committees and Member offices, according to the LOC Web site. Some CRS employees, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said some colleagues question DSP’s close relationship to whomever is in the majority, whether it be Republicans or Democrats. But they also said that every CRS division works differently, and it’s hard to criticize a process they aren’t involved in.

But Upshaw sees it all as a cry for institutional standards to keep employees neutral and unbiased.

“There should be procedures and policies and guidelines for staff to self-direct themselves into appropriate roles,” he said. “The reason that these actual or perceived conflict-of-interest relationships are allowed to [be] forge[d] is because the environment is absent the sort of management control to prevent these issues.”