Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Sunday, April 01, 2007

More on OA to CRS reports

A group of public-interest advocacy organizations asked Congress on Thursday to provide OA to the highly-regarded, publicly-funded, non-classified reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  (Thanks to Mike Carroll.)   From the press release (March 29, 2007): 

Congress must make the critical, taxpayer-funded reports produced by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) available to the public over the Internet, a group of public interest advocates told congressional leaders today.

In letters to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic and Republican leaders of the House Rules and Senate Rules and Administration Committees, the groups, organized by the Open the Government Project and the Center for Democracy & Technology urged lawmakers to fix a policy that makes it easy for deep-pocketed lobbyists to obtain the reports but leaves most ordinary Americans unable to take advantage of an important source of government information.... [PS:  See the Pelosi letter, Senate Rules letter, and House Administration letter.]

"The time has long since come to end this baseless, unfair policy," CDT Deputy Director Ari Schwartz said. "In the Internet age, it is unconscionable that these important, unclassified documents should remain out of reach for the great majority of Americans."

American taxpayers spend over $100 million a year to fund the CRS, which generates detailed reports relevant to current political events for lawmakers. But while the reports are non-classified, and play a critical role in our political process, they have never been made available in a consistent way to members of the public. CRS already maintains a fully searchable, password-protected Web site for members of Congress. Increasing capacity and providing public access to that site would constitute a trivial expense for the Library of Congress.

To fill the public void left by the CRS, several private companies now sell copies of the reports at a price. This means that for lobbyists, executives and others who can afford to pay, CRS reports are readily available. Meanwhile, the vast majority of American citizens continue to lack the information necessary to even request reports.

"Such inequitable access to taxpayer-funded government information should be anathema in an open society, but it is the predictable outcome of an archaic policy that should never have survived this long into the digital age," Open the Government Project Director Patrice McDermott said.

The groups including American Association of Law Libraries, American Booksellers Foundation for Free Expression, American Library Association, Association of Research Libraries, Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Common Cause, Electronic Frontier Foundation, EnviroJustice, Feminists for Free Expression, Free Government Information, National Coalition Against Censorship, National Security Archive, Northern California Association of Law Libraries, OMB Watch, Pension Rights Center, Political Research Associates, Education Fund, Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, Southern California Association of Law Libraries. Special Libraries Association, and the Sunlight Foundation urged lawmakers to hold hearings on the issue and to actively support legislation to provide the public with direct, no-fee access to all CRS reports.