March 5, 2009
Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., on Wednesday resumed a perennial attempt by some lawmakers and open government advocates to make reports produced by the Congressional Research Service more easily accessible to the public.
In a letter to Senate Rules Committee Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., he called for a sanctioned, automatically updated clearinghouse for the documents so "those with power and those without have equal access to this important resource."
Over the past decade, a series of bills requiring public access to CRS reports has made little progress, including a 2007 measure introduced by former Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn. Under the chairmanship of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., last Congress, the Rules Committee authorized CRS to create software to let senators place individual reports on their Web sites. That did not go far enough, Lieberman wrote. Last Congress, he introduced a resolution with Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, and others that called for a more accessible system.
"A more effective system would provide constituents with tools similar to those used by congressional staff, with material presented by topic and the capability to search across all reports and issue briefs," he told Schumer.
In addition to piecemeal disclosures by lawmakers, CRS reports are made available through pay services and more intermittently at OpenCRS.com, a free Web database offered by the Center for Democracy and Technology.
Demand for the reports is so great that this month, thousands of documents -- representing several years' worth of work by CRS analysts -- were placed on the Wikileaks.org site, Lieberman noted. ShowUsTheData.org, a site launched by CDT and Open the Government last month on the heels of President Obama's Day One transparency directive, lists CRS reports as the top priority. Efforts like OpenCRS and Wikileaks allow more reports to enter the public domain but do not ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is available, Lieberman wrote.
CRS has been resistant to change.
"They don't want to become politicized and feel that by being more open, they could face potential criticism," CDT Vice President Ari Schwartz said.
But with White House and Hill leadership emphasizing transparency, Lieberman's effort could gain traction, Schwartz said.
A CRS official could not be reached for comment.
March 5, 2009