Sens. Leahy and McCain and Reps. Lance and Quigley Introduce Bipartisan, Bicameral Bill To Open Taxpayer-Funded Congressional Research Reports To The Public

. . . Online Publication Of CRS Reports Would Allow Access for All Americans

WASHINGTON (THURSDAY, March 3, 2016) – Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-N.J.) and Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) on Thursday introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to make reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) – Congress’s research arm – freely available to the American public.

A legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS issues or updates more than 3000 reports each year on topics ranging from the structure of government agencies, to summaries of legislative proposals and other policy analyses.  Current restrictions prevent these taxpayer-funded reports from being directly distributed to the public, but third-party for-profit companies often make them available to lobbyists for hefty subscription fees.  The new bill will give the public the same access that members of Congress and their staffs have long had by directing that CRS reports be published online, for free, by the Government Publishing Office, so that all Americans can access them equally.

Leahy, chief sponsor of the Senate bill, said: “Outside of Congress, for decades these reports have been ‘public’ only for insiders who can afford to pay a subscription fee.  That’s not very ‘public’ and does nothing for the average citizen in Vermont or the rest of the country.  Our bill will open up this invaluable, taxpayer-funded resource for use by all Americans and by schools and libraries.  CRS was founded on principles of nonpartisanship and the belief that accurate, thoughtful information should inform the policy conversations of the day.  It is a testament to the best ideals of Congress, and all Americans should benefit from the work and resources it provides.”  Leahy has long led on right-to-know issues, such as the Freedom of Information Act, and he is a member of the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress and the Senate Rules Committee, which will have jurisdiction over the new bill.

Sen. McCain, chief Republican cosponsor of the Senate bill, said:  “I’m proud to support this bipartisan, good-government bill to provide the American people with free access to the Congressional Research Service’s (CRS) high-quality, unbiased and fact-based policy reports. By making these taxpayer-funded reports free and publicly available, Congress will be able to better serve their constituents, and voters will have access to an invaluable tool to make informed decisions on topics ranging from Obamacare and federal spending to tax reform and other important issues.”

McCain and Leahy have partnered for more than a decade in pressing for this change.

Rep. Lance, chief sponsor of the House bill, said:  “It is 2016, any student, reporter, taxpayer or interested citizen should be able to view these reports online.  These reports are paid for by taxpayer funds, the taxpayers should be able to read them.  It is past time to end the era of secrecy to these reports and open them to the benefit of research, reporting and public information.”

Rep. Quigley, chief Democratic cosponsor of the House bill, said:  “Opening CRS reports to the public would empower our constituents with vital information about the key issues, policies, and budgets we’re debating here in Congress, increasing government transparency and giving the public the tools they need to hold their government accountable.  It’s time to allow the American people to access the same neutral, unbiased, nonpartisan information that we in Congress rely on every day.  I am proud to introduce the Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act with Senators Leahy and McCain and Congressman Lance, and I will continue working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle until non-confidential CRS reports are open to all.”

More than 40 organizations including libraries, educators and transparency groups issued a statement Thursday welcoming the bill, stating it will “ensure equitable access for all Americans to [CRS Reports], which provide insight into the important issues before Congress and are paid for by taxpayers.”  On Monday, 12 conservative organizations also wrote to Congress urging expanded public access to CRS reports, saying that “The bottom line is taxpayers pay for these reports.  It is only fair that they have easy access to them.”  Former employees of CRS have also weighed in to support public access to CRS reports.

A copy of the bill is available online.

Read more:

Congressional Research Belongs to the Public (The New York Times)

Where Taxpayers Pay ($100 million per year) But Interest Groups Benefit (Kosar, Washington Post)

The publicly funded reports you can’t read (Samuelson, Politico)

Should Congressional Research Service Reports Be Public? (Hess, CQ)

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