Quigley: Elevate Public Debate with Open CRS Reports

May 17, 2016

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05), Co-Chair of the Transparency Caucus, offered an amendment to the Fiscal Year 2017 Legislative Branch Appropriations bill that would require the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to publish its reports on the U.S. Government Publishing Office’s (GPO) website, serving as a one-stop shop for public information. Rep. Quigley’s amendment was voted down 18-31.

“Today’s public debate has become increasingly partisan and polarized. I fear that too many Americans get the majority of their news from 24-hour news channels that prioritize sound bites and sensationalism. There simply aren’t enough trusted sources that provide fact based non-partisan information,” said Rep. Quigley. “It’s time to elevate the debate in this country and allow the American people to access the same neutral, unbiased, nonpartisan information that members of Congress rely on every day. Opening CRS reports to the public would empower constituents with vital information about the key issues, policies, and budgets debated in Congress, increase government transparency and give the public the tools to they need to hold their government accountable. I’m disappointed that my amendment didn’t pass in committee today, but will continue to push to make CRS reports available to the public.” 

Click the photo to watch Rep. Quigley’s remarks on opening CRS reports to the public in the Legislative Branch appropriations bill mark up.

For more than two decades, Congress has wrestled with whether to systematically distribute non-confidential CRS reports to the public. Earlier this year, Rep. Quigley introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Equal Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Act with Rep. Leonard Lance (NJ-07) and Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and John McCain (R-AZ). The legislation directs the Congressional Research Service to publish its reports on govinfo.gov – a site managed by the Government Printing Office (GPO) that will serve as a one-stop shop for public information. In 2015, Reps. Quigley and Lance introduced House Resolution 34, which directs the Clerk of the House of Representatives to maintain a centralized public database for non-confidential CRS reports. During the Legislative Branch appropriations committee mark up for FY2016, Rep. Quigley offered an amendment that would require CRS to keep an updated list of their published reports on their publically available website. Reps. Quigley and Lance also hosted a bipartisan Transparency Caucus briefing during last year’s International Open Access Week on the issue. In the 113th Congress, Reps. Quigley and Lance introduced the Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Act, which would amend the current law to allow the public release of congressional reports that CRS produces.

In October 2015, a letter was sent by former employees of the CRS that calls for “timely, comprehensive free public access to CRS reports” to a group of Congressional lawmakers with the power to make the CRS reports public. The letter goes on to make a strong argument for CRS to publish their reports online in a way for everyday citizens to easily access them.

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a little-known but highly regarded division of the Library of Congress. The research service is by law exclusively for the use of members of Congress and congressional staff. CRS is governed by requirements for accuracy, objectivity, balance, and nonpartisanship – the very sort of analysis sought and valued by engaged constituents.  As a dedicated congressional support agency, CRS is joined by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) in providing Congress with information and analysis that is unequaled by any other national legislature. While GAO and CBO reports are already available to the public, CRS reports are not.

The bipartisan Transparency Caucus serves as a resource for Members of Congress on bipartisan, open government initiatives. The caucus promotes legislation that requires federal information to be freely accessible, as well as advocates for new programs that support transparency.