A new website created by Demand Progress aims to give the public unfettered access to thousands of taxpayer-funded nonpartisan and unclassified reports, previously available only to anyone who paid for access or was staffing Congress. The new site shares all reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) that were available on Congress’s internal website—over 8,000 in total.
The CRS acts as an arm of the legislative branch, researching and reporting on topics of interest to Congress. Its work, funded by the taxpayers, is high quality non-partisan research and analysis, but has never been readily available to the public. CRS has repeatedly argued against releasing its products, citing various legal, cost, technical, and other issues, and Congress has yet to tell CRS to make those products public.
POGO has long carried the torch for releasing CRS reports, emphasizing the rights of taxpayers to access information that should be publicly available—calling it “Washington’s Best Kept Secret”—and debunking CRS’s arguments for secrecy. Others countered the CRS’s arguments, as well, including former CRS researcher Kevin Kosar.
Still, Demand Progress addressed some of the concerns raised by CRS, adding a disclaimer about copyright to the reports and redacting the names and contact information of researchers.
Through the site EveryCRSReport.com, the public can access the same unbiased and unredacted research and analysis that Members of Congress read. As a resource, it is a great boon for journalists, students, and any taxpayer seeking insight on issues of public debate. The site has over 8,200 downloadable and searchable reports, and shares its code through GitHub. By becoming open source, the site increases access to developers that can build in more features and help make CRS reports even more accessible.
EveryCRSReport.com sorts everything into 31 subjects, and each subject has an RSS feed that will update anyone interested in following specific policy research published by the Congressional think tank.
The push to get CRS itself to release the reports isn’t over. This year, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ) and Representatives Leonard Lance (R-NJ) and Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced bipartisan bicameral legislation as the most recent Congressional effort to grant public access to these reports.
In the meantime, EveryCRSReport.com may send visitors on a deep dive into US relations with Venezuela or on a coding spree to help improve access and add features to the site. For the bipartisan coalition of groups that advocated for this public release and online access, it may send us into a victory dance to culminate over 20 years of advocating for free taxpayer access to CRS reports. The most important reaction, though, should be to take advantage of the same unredacted high-quality research that has been informing Members of Congress for decades.