Congressional Research Service Serves Up Once-Scarce Reports

Portal launched to comply with new law, but some studies remain elusive.

As required by Congress this spring, the once-secretive Congressional Research Service this week launched its first-ever portal to encourage public access to hundreds of its reports that in the past were available exclusively to lawmakers.

“In 2018, Congress passed a law directing the creation of this site and ending the legal requirement prohibiting CRS from providing its products to the public,” the agency noted on its website. “In response, the Library [of Congress] immediately started work to ensure all products required under this new law would be available at launch, as well as add as many additional products as possible.”

Now the public can use search terms in CRS’s new portal to peruse 628 reports released since January. A timetable for the planned release of older reports is available in an FAQ. “In keeping with our desire to engage users with the library and its materials,” wrote Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden in a blogpost, “we are happy to see these reports put to the widest use possible.”

One reason for years of resistance to demands for the reports from transparency advocates was a fear among some lawmakers and staff that CRS analysts might pull their punches in analyzing controversial issues if they knew the reports were to be public. Also, some lawmakers preferred to give out the reports they had requested selectively, depending on whether they liked the conclusions.

Steven Aftergood, the secrecy blogger at the Federation of American Scientists who made a cottage industry out of scavenging unreleased CRS reports through personal contacts, greeted the new portal with a small complaint.  “At this point, CRS is only posting its primary ‘R series’ reports,” he noted, with the authors’ contact information redacted.

“But other CRS product lines—including CRS In Focus, CRS Insight, and CRS Legal Sidebar—are not currently available through the public portal. So CRS reports like these must still be obtained independently,” he added, listing potentially controversial titles.