Open CRS bill in House

We aren’t the only ones after opening up CRS reports. As our report mentions, Rep. Christopher Shays [R-CT] has been a supporter of this for a long while. Two weeks ago he introduced H.R. 2545, the latest in a long line of bills he has introduced to make CRS reports directly available to the public. The bill would make available to the public a “centralized, searchable, electronic database” of certain CRS products.

What’s made available are “(A) Congressional Research Service Issue Briefs. (B) Congressional Research Service Reports that are available to Members of Congress through the Congressional Research Service website. (C) Congressional Research Service Authorization of Appropriations Products and Appropriations Products.” Confidential, personal, and copyrighted works can be removed from the public versions.

The bill is pretty good. There are some interesting points, though. For one, a delay in making reports publicly available is mandated:

(c) Time- The Director of the Congressional Research Service shall make available all information required under this section no earlier than 30 days and no later than 40 days after the date on which the information is first made available to Members of Congress through the Congressional Research Service website.

In addition, the bill requires that no public commentary be allowed:

(d) Manner- The Director of the Congressional Research Service shall make information required to be made available under this section in a manner that– . . . (2) does not permit the submission of comments from the public.

I personally don’t have strong objections to either provision. CRS is meant as a tool for members of Congress, and I don’t mind that they get to see the reports first, nor do I mind CRS not being bogged down dealing with public commentary.

The bill, however, is a bit unclear about how the reports are going to be made publicly available. In particular, it seems to mandate a decentralized system, which seems counterintuitive, and not ideal for the public, who deserve a single repository:

[CRS products] shall be provided through the websites maintained by Members and committees of the House of Representatives. The Director of the Congressional Research Service and the Chief Administrative Officer of the House of Representatives shall work together to carry out this subsection.

Finally, and this is a bit pie-in-the-sky, but I would have liked to see a provision that made it clear that the products should be made available in such a way that websites like OpenCRS, and GovTrack, can download, aggregate, and index the reports easily, besides having a website interface for the public to find reports.

But on the whole I am very happy to see that this bill has been reintroduced again.

Maybe the authors of the CRS section of the OHP report can comment on the merits of this bill?

(Thanks to Tim McGhee for altering me to this bill.)

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