WASHINGTON—Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, ID-Conn., and Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., Thursday introduced S. Res. 118 to help foster greater public access to the expert reports produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS).
The legislation would create a centralized electronic system that would allow the public to search for CRS reports and issue briefs. It would also require an index of reports and issue briefs be made available to the public. The bill would not apply to the confidential research products created for members of congress and their staff by request; it would only apply to the material made available on the CRS website for wide dissemination among Congressional staff.
“CRS produces reports that inform Members of Congress and their staffs on key issues of the day,” Lieberman said. “Our constituents deserve widespread public access to these reports that their taxpayer dollars pay for, but they are currently available to the public only on a haphazard basis. This legislation would require the development of a comprehensive system that would allow the taxpayers to find CRS reports easily and access the most accurate and up-to-date information.”
McCain said: “I have been working to provide online availability for Congressional documents for over ten years, and improved access to the expert research materials produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) will provide greater transparency into the Congressional decision making process. $107 million of taxpayer’s money will go to fund CRS operations in fiscal year 2009. The American public paid for these valuable resources and has a right to benefit from them.”
A report issued last month by the non-profit Center for Democracy & Technology and OpenTheGovernment.org identified CRS reports as the number one most desired government document by the public. This report has been issued three times in the past 10 years, with CRS reports in the top 10 each time. Also in March, thousands of reports were placed on the website wikileaks.org, representing years’ worth of CRS analyses. But the wikileaks.org postings, like the other efforts by non-profit groups and private companies to make CRS reports publicly available, do not necessarily include the most recent information and sometimes are available only to paying customers. This increases the need for a robust officially-sanctioned system where these reports can be automatically updated and made available to all.
In addition to McCain, current cosponsors are Senators Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Susan Collins, R-Me., Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Russ Feingold, D-Wis. and Richard Lugar, R-Ind. All of the current cosponsors also cosponsored similar legislation that Lieberman introduced in the 110th Congress.