Opening Congressional Research Service reports to the public is in the public interest

The main reading room inside the Library of Congress, which houses the Congressional Research Service. (Photo credit: Architect of the Capitol/Flickr)

Today, Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., reintroduced the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act, a bipartisan bill that would make all reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS) freely available to the public online in a central location.

In a statement, Quigley said:

Public trust in government has reached historic lows, causing too many Americans to simply give up on Washington and the mission of government. The best way to rebuild the public’s trust and promote a more efficient and effective government is by furthering government accountability through increased transparency, and that’s precisely what the Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act does. By making all congressional reports from agencies easy to search, sort and download online, we are fostering government accountability and transparency.

As former Sunlighter Matt Rumsey wrote three years ago, this bill to make agency reports to Congress publicly available was reintroduced by Quigley and Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in 2013, attracting bipartisan support and the endorsement of the House Oversight Committee. The bill gained significant support during the 112th Congress, when it was favorably reported out of the House Oversight and Administration committees. The bill was originally introduced in 2011, when Sunlight and our open government allies supported it in a letter to Congress.

In fact, the Sunlight Foundation has called for public access to publicly funded research for many years. In 2009, Sunlight’s founding executive director, Ellen Miller, wrote that opening up CRS reports “is an easy transparency reform that boggles the mind as to why it has not yet been done.”

Congress has already missed one important opportunity to open CRS reports to the public last May. As Matt Fuller reported for the Huffington Post, “At a time when highly informed voters might seem like a good thing, the Appropriations Committee voted down, 18-32, an amendment from Reps. Mike Quigely (D-Ill.) and Scott Rigell (R-Va.) that would have made it easier for the public to access Congressional Research Service reports.”

The research that the CRS provides to Congress using taxpayers dollars is a valuable resource that would lead to a more informed public. We reject specious arguments that publishing these reports online would slow the information getting to members of Congress, and strongly urge the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate to make the research open to all.