In an open letter sent today to the leadership of the House and Senate committees that oversee the Congressional Research Service (CRS), the Sunlight Foundation joined a bipartisan coalition of 40 advocacy groups, businesses, nonprofits and think tanks, as well as over 90 scholars, researchers, librarians, activists and private citizens, to support public access to CRS reports.
Last year, the CRS wrote more than 1,000 new reports, updated 2,500 more and received over $100 million in taxpayer funding. These reports play an important role in the lawmaking process by serving as an authoritative and unbiased source of information for legislators and staff.
Even though the reports are not confidential, they are currently only distributed directly to members of Congress, who can then decide whether or not to distribute them publicly. As a result, access to reports is lopsided. CRS reports are readily available to Capitol Hill insiders. Well-connected companies charge high fees to redistribute reports they collect. Students, journalists, researchers and other members of the public, however, may not be able to access reports at all; the few reports that are publicly available are rarely updated and quickly go out of date.
Congress can easily resolve this inequity by providing comprehensive free public access to all nonconfidential CRS reports — something we’ve passionately supported in the past.
Over the past 10 years, CRS reports have been cited in 190 federal court opinions, more than 100 articles in The New York Times and The Washington Post, and are often published in the record of legislative proceedings. The Government Accountability Office, the Congressional Budget Office, the Law Library of Congress and 85 percent of G-20 countries with similar parliamentary research offices already make their reports available to the public — it is time for the CRS to follow suit.
Issues that matter in Congress matter to constituents. Whenever possible, members of the public should be able to benefit from the same information and research as the members of Congress they have elected to represent them.
Read the full letter below.