Open Access News

News from the open access movement


Friday, March 23, 2007

Tighter restrictions on CRS reports

I've often written about the valuable, publicly-funded, non-classified but non-OA reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  Now the Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News reports that CRS has imposed even tighter access restrictions on the reports.  Excerpt:

In what is being characterized by subordinates as an act of "managerial dementia," the Director of the Congressional Research Service this week prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval from senior agency officials.

"I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public," wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mullohan in a memo to all CRS staff (pdf). "This policy is effective immediately."  [March 20, 2007]

While CRS has long refused (with Congressional concurrence) to make its electronic database of reports available to the public online, it has still been possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency.

But now, "to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals," Director Mullohan wrote.

The new policy demonstrates that "this is an organization in freefall," according to one CRS analyst. "We are now indeed working for Captain Queeg."

"We're all sort of shaking," another CRS staffer told Secrecy News. "I can't do my work."

"There's not a day that goes by that I don't talk to someone in another agency, another organization, or someone else outside of Congress and we share information," the staffer said. "Now I can't do that?" ...

[Mullohan's memo] was also reported by Elizabeth Williamson in the Washington Post today.

None of the CRS personnel contacted by Secrecy News was able to explain exactly what prompted CRS Director Mulhollan to issue the policy memorandum this week.

While other parts of government strive to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to information sharing, the new CRS policy may be seen as an experiment in what happens when barriers to information sharing are arbitrarily increased. It probably won't be good....