Guide to CRS Reports on the Web
By Stephen Young. Published on September 17, 2006
Stephen Young is a reference librarian at The Catholic University of America, Kathryn J. DuFour Law Library. Stephen has written extensively in the area of United Kingdom law, and has contributed a number of articles to LLRX.com .
Published July 15, 2002 and updated on July 26, 2004 [by Stephen Young]; updated on September 17, 2006 [by Sabrina I. Pacifici ]
"With the rapidly expanding use of the Internet, we believe it is appropriate for Members and Committees to use their web sites to further disseminate CRS products. we encourage you to post CRS products on your web site."
U.S. Senate, Committee on Rules and Administration, June 10, 1998
The Congressional Research Service (CRS) is the non-partisan public policy research arm of the United States Congress. The Legislative Drafting Bureau and Reference Division, as it was originally named, was established in July 1914 under the authority of appropriations legislation introduced by Senator Robert LaFollette (38 STAT 962, 1005). Known at the time as the “Wisconsin Idea,” (this is largely attributed to the fact that the legislation had been proposed by a Senator from Wisconsin, one of a number of states where a specialized library unit already existed to assist the legislative body in their research) the proposal sought to strengthen the Library of Congress’ foremost function; legislative research support for members of Congress. Under the terms of the legislation the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, was authorized to “ employ competent persons to prepare such indexes, digests, and compilations of laws as may be required for Congress and other official use. ” A more complete description of the intent behind the creation of the agency can be derived from U.S. Senate, Committee on the Library, Legislative Drafting Bureau and Reference Division, 62d Cong. 3d sess. 1913, S. Rept.1271.
Since 1914 this component of the Library of Congress has provided Congress with research and objective analysis on a wide variety of topics. In 1946 the LRB was made a separate division of the Library of Congress and officially named the Legislative Reference Service (60 STAT 812, 836). Under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 the LRS was again renamed, this time with the title Congressional Research Service, and its statutory mission was more clearly defined. As a source of non-partisan, timely, and accurate information the CRS reports are often regarded as second to none, however there has recently been criticism voiced over the lack of public access to these documents (see, for example, the 2003 Report by the Project on Government Oversight regarding taxpayer access to CRS products, and the editorial in 2/12/03 issue of Roll Call comparing the secrecy of the CRS with the CIA). This guide will provide a brief overview of CRS and its publications, and then provide some suggestions for locating the reports. It should be noted at the outset that CRS does not maintain a publicly accessible research website, however it does have an employment site with some useful background information about the agency including the agency's most recent Annual Report.
CRS, a $91,726,000 per year (FY 2004, $101 million proposed for FY 2005) agency staffed by 729 members, responds to over 800,000 congressional requests each year. Following a realignment of the division that was begun in FY1999, CRS is now divided into six interdisciplinary research divisions: American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; Information Research; and Resources, Science and Industry. Each division is further divided into subject specialist sections. For example, the Domestic Social Policy Division is broken down into Justice and Immigration, Research Development, Retirement and Income Security, Children and Families, Education and Labor, and Health Care and Medicine. The six research divisions are supported in their work by five “infrastructure” offices; Finance and Administration, Information Resources Management, Congressional Affairs and Counselor to the Director, Legislative Information, and Workforce Development. A more complete description of the tasks and responsibilities of the various divisions and sections is provided in the agency'sAnnual Report. while a more detailed description of the agency's budget and expenditures may be located on p.38 of the Legislative Branch Appendix to the Budget of the United States Government.
Each year CRS produces almost 1,000 new products, and over 4,000 updated or revised reports, however only a small number of these are made available to the public on the Internet. Although CRS does maintain an intranet for CRS reports (CRS Web) this network is only accessible by members of Congress, Congressional committees, and CRS sister agencies (e.g. GAO). Members of the public requiring access to these reports have traditionally had to ask their Representative in Congress for paper copies to be mailed to them or have had to purchase them through a third party (see “Suppliers ” below).
CRS produces a number of document types although the most commonly requested are the reports (almost 4,000 reports are currently in existence). The purpose of a report is to clearly define the issue in the legislative context. The reports may take many forms including policy analysis, economic studies, statistical reviews, and legal analyses, and can be either Short Reports (RS), which are typically under 7 pages in length, or Long Reports (RL), which can include major studies on a particular topic. Over 700 new CRS reports are produced each year and made available on CRS Web to the select groups identified above. A second type of CRS document is the Issue Briefs (IB). These short documents, no longer than 16 pages, include issue definitions, background and policy analyses, legislation passed and pending, a bibliography of hearings, reports and documents and other congressional actions, a chronology of events, and reference sources. Approximately 150 issue briefs are currently in existence. Other documents types include Appropriations Reports (usually released as a Long Report), Electronic Briefing Books, Info Packs and Congressional distribution memoranda. All of these documents are produced at the request of and for the use of members of Congress. They are not intended for public consumption or for dissemination to libraries. In addition to written products CRS staff also provide testimony in Congressional hearings, conduct seminars, briefings, and institutes for Congressional members and their staff, and over the
past decade have even provided assistance to members and staff of foreign legislative bodies.
The Campaign for Online Access
The movement to make CRS reports more publicly available on the Internet is not new. Since 1991 there have been efforts to put the reports online, however the demand for Internet access to these documents has exploded over the past few years and has been reported on by newspapers such as the Washington Post (2/17/03) and the Cleveland Plain Dealer (12/8/03). The Center for Democracy and Technology has listed CRS reports as the #1 “Most Wanted Government Documents ” in its listing of the top 10 most sought after types of government information. Spearheaded by Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ), legislation was introduced into Congress in 1998 ( S. 1578. H.R. 3131 ), twice in 1999 ( S. 393. H.R. 654 ), 2001 ( S.R. 21 ), and twice in 2003 ( S.R. 54. H.R. 3630 ) requesting a publicly accessible Internet site for CRS reports. In all instances the legislation has failed to pass through both houses of Congress, its usual fate being to die in the Senate Rules Committee.
Opponents to the establishment of a publicly available Web site, including the Librarian Of Congress in this 1999 letter. have argued that it could create legal liability issues for CRS from those opposed to its findings. A second argument, voiced in this recent internal memo. has been that online public dissemination of the material could lead to the public directly requesting reports on certain topics. This would have the adverse affect of an increase in the workload of the agency and a dilution of the agency’s mission to supply Congress with objective advice. Another concern voiced by CRS itself has been the use of copyrighted information in CRS reports. Since the documents were originally only made available “in-house” there has traditionally been little concern over the use of copyrighted material in the reports. However, if the documents are made public as a matter of course then CRS might be opening itself up to claims of copyright infringement.
Proponents of making CRS information more readily available on the Internet have included The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL), and the Congressional Accountability Project (CAP) to name just three of many organizations clamoring to make these documents more accessible. Proponents have generally disregarded the liability and other concerns voiced by opponents as unfounded (see, for example, this memo to Senator John McCain from Stanley Brand). A November 2000 article in Wired Magazine called the lack of CRS documents on the Internet “the biggest Congressional scandal of the digital age,” and concluded “all of these reports could be placed online easily and affordably.” Representative David Dreier (R-CA) recently stated in a chapter in a forthcoming publication on Congress and the Internet that;
While CRS’s concerns about potential litigation, public lobbying over content, and the erosion of candid advice to Members are legitimate, it is doubtful that making these reports available to the public over the Internet will undermine the deliberative nature of Congress as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. It is likely that they will be put on-line sometime in the near future.
It is unlikely that the pressure to place the majority of CRS reports on a publicly accessible website will diminish, and it has in fact only increased since the termination by the House Administration Committee of a pilot program to make some CRS reports available on the Web sites of Representatives Shays and Green. It is therefore probably only a matter of time before Congress authorizes the distribution of these documents (excluding any classified information) through a government controlled website. If Congress wishes to see examples of how and where this has taken place elsewhere in the world they could examine the website for the Library Research Papers of the House of Commons established by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. This site makes available papers in electronic format from 1998 – present, and it is worth noting that Parliament's research body was frequently cited as an example for CRS in the original Congressional hearings and reports that led to the creation of CRS. Another useful example of the dissemination of parliamentary research is the Australian Parliament’s Research Papers website. This site provides electronic access to materials produced since 1994. The Canadian Parliament has also provided electronic access to its collection of Parliamentary Research Branch publications. Although none of these sites can claim the volume of material produced by CRS, they do provide models of how a research component of the nation’s legislative body can distribute its product to the public.
Where to Look Online for CRS Reports
Although there is not a large amount of information available in the traditional research literature on finding CRS documents, a recent article in LLSDC's Law Library Lights (see the article by Debra Atkins on p.28) included a short but helpful guide to locating CRS products. The following Internet sites provide free access to select CRS documents (except for the suppliers listed at the end), however none of the sites can claim comprehensive coverage, and it should be noted that there is a great deal of overlap in coverage. Additionally, a number of academic sites provide guides to using and locating CRS documents including the IUPUI Library. the University of Oregon Library System. the University of Central Florida Libraries. the University of Washington Law Library. and the University of Michigan Library. Of course, individual reports can be searched on the Internet. The most efficient method of doing this is usually to enter the title or number of the report as a query in a search engine and if possible limit the query to just PDF files (e.g. on Google simply type “filetype:.pdf” after the query or use the advanced searching feature). The Web site zfacts.com provides an efficient and effective search template for retrieving individual reports which allows the user to search Google by keyword or order number.
For the purposes of this article I have divided the various sites into four categories; General Listings. Subject Specialist Listings. Limited Listings. and Suppliers. Unless otherwise indicated the documents are available in pdf format. If you do not have Adobe Acrobat Reader ® please click here .