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Project on Government Oversight




Public Access to Congressional Research Service Products

February 10, 2003 


Press Conference and Report Release

Tuesday, February 11th at 11:30 A.M. in Room 236 in the Russell Senate Office Building, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) will be announcing the re-introduction of Senate sunshine legislation that would make many Congressional Research Service (CRS) products as well as other public records of the Senate and Congressional committees available on the internet. The Project On Government Oversight (POGO) will also be releasing its report: Congressional Research Service Products: Taxpayers Should Have Easy Access.

The CRS, an arm of the U.S. Congress, authors products such as Reports to Congress, Issue Briefs, and Authorization and Appropriations Reports. None of these resources are being made readily available to the public by the government.

However, there are organizations which are profiting from this taxpayer-funded resource. Private vendors such as Lexis, Penny Hill Press, and Westlaw sell some of these CRS products. Furthermore, former Members of Congress, many of whom become lobbyists, can request current CRS publications and limited reference assistance. Currently, there are over 150 registered lobbyists who are former Members of Congress. Entities such as corporations, universities, and localities who can afford these high-priced lobbyists have access to current CRS publications that the general American public does not. There are a variety of government, non-governmental, and university websites that offer some CRS reports, but none of them have all the products and finding a particular report remains a crapshoot.

The CRS also operates both the CRS website and the Legislative Information System (LIS) website, which are not available to the public at all. To prevent public access to its websites, CRS has even erected an elaborate firewall which redirects non-Congressional inquiries to the public THOMAS site. The LIS offers far more information than is available on the public Library of Congress THOMAS website. In fact, CRS has a special page detailing the enhanced capabilities of its restricted LIS website over the public THOMAS website, such as up-to-the-minute floor and committee schedules – critical information for citizens, grassroots activists and journalists.

The Project On Government Oversight's Executive Director Danielle Brian stated, "CRS's secrecy is an anachronism from before the information age. It has no place in the internet era. Furthermore, to allow former Members of Congress who are now lobbyists access to this service, while denying it to the public, is counter to the principles of open government. CRS's excuses for denying the public access to this information don't hold water and are an example of bureaucratic power-grabbing at its worst."

While CRS has testified and written policy positions opposing the dissemination of its products to the public, other legislative agencies with functions similar to those of the CRS - the General Accounting Office and the Congressional Budget Office - have made their products available to the public without compromising their responsibilities to Congress, relinquishing their constitutional protections, or violating any legal prohibitions.

POGO recommends that CRS products such as Reports to Congress, Issue Briefs, and Authorization and Appropriations Reports be made readily available to the general public. The Library of Congress should seek to bolster the public THOMAS website to include as much information from the CRS and LIS websites as possible.

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO's investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.

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