Policy and News Updates for April 3, 2007

Policy Updates

[new] Accessing Congressional research
American taxpayers spend nearly $100 million a year to fund the Congressional Research Service (CRS), an arm of the Library of Congress whose 700 researchers provide reports to members of Congress on a variety of topics relevant to current political events. However, these reports are not open to the public. The best way for the public to obtain a CRS report is through their member of Congress, but the process is slow and it requires that the requester know the report exists.

On March 28, coalition partners of OpenTheGovernment.org, along with the Center for Democracy and Technology and others, sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi [D-CA], the Senate Rules Committee, and the Committee on House Administration asking that CRS reports be made available to the public. According the letter, "Public demand for these reports has never been higher. In a little more than a year, members of the public have downloaded more than 3.5 million CRS reports from OpenCRS.com, a Web site that provides a searchable database of CRS reports that have been obtained by various archivists and members of the public."

Making CRS reports available to the public makes sense. According to the letter, "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 or for the House in light of their current levels of traffic." As Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, notes in a commentary piece, "The proliferation of free information online has only strengthened the argument that CRS also should offer free information."

Focus has turned to CRS recently, due to two memos CRS Director Daniel P. Mulhollan issued noting changes in CRS policies. On March 20, Mulhollan issued a memo to all CRS staff saying, "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. This policy is effective immediately." In the past, it was possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency. However, as Secrecy News reports, this memo changes that policy. A staffer told Secrecy News, "We’re all sort of shaking. I can’t do my work."

In addition, some members of Congress have criticized CRS for its recent decision to stop its reports on earmarks. In a Wall Street Journal Editorial titled "Earmark Cover-Up", John Fund accuses CRS of "helping its masters hide wasteful spending." Despite requests from Sen. Coburn [R-OK] and Sen. Jim DeMint [R-SC], a private Feb. 22 directive from Director Mulhollan states that, "CRS will no longer identify earmarks for individual programs, activities, entities, or individuals," ending its 12-year practice of reporting on earmark data. Mulhollan responded to the editorial in a memo to CRS staff and a letter to the editor, available through Secrecy News.

TAKE ACTION: Help add to the Open CRS collection! Call your member of Congress and request a PDF copy of the following CRS Report. Once you receive it, submit it to Open CRS.
Report Order Code: RL31686
Title: Demilitarization of Significant Military Equipment


[new] Lobbying reform stalls
It is now Easter recess for the House and Senate and Congress still has not passed a complete lobbying reform bill. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Civil Liberties has held one hearing on S. 1, the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2007, but the bill is stuck in the House. Paul Blumenthal of the Sunlight Foundation has more.

[new] FBI, PATRIOT Act under scrutiny
FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee last week, acknowledging failures at the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that led to repeated violations of federal law and agency policies in collecting personal information and a significant underreporting of National Security Letter (NSL) requests.

Mueller’s testimony follows a report released by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of Justice (DOJ) on March 9. This report is a result of the strengthened reporting requirements the civil liberties and open access communities insisted be added to the reauthorized PATRIOT Act and is the only reason these abuses have come to light. The OIG found inaccurate reporting, improper use of NSLs, and other violations of policy. "We’re going to be reexamining the broad authorities we’ve granted to the FBI under the Patriot Act," Judiciary Committee chairman, Patrick J. Leahy [D-VT], said during the hearing.
Sources: Report Finds Underreporting and Abuse of USA PATRIOT Act Powers [OMB Watcher 3.20.07]; Failures at FBI Acknowledged [Washington Post 3.28.07]

News from Coalition Partners and Others


New report on political interference in science
Redacting the Science of Climate Change, a new report by the Government Accountability Project (GAP) with contributions from Jay Dyckman of the National Coalition Against Censorship (NCAC), details the findings of a year-long investigation into political interference at federal climate science agencies. Also check out GAP’s new blog!

Visit the Policy and News Updates Archive here