Public Access to CRS Reports is Vital to US Policymaking – August 25, 2015 Newsletter

– Brief Updates on Coalition Partners & Others (more)
– Don’t Miss from OTG (more)
– Public Access to CRS Reports is Vital to US Policymaking (more)

News from Coalition Partners & Others

State and Local Governments Must Disclose Cost of Special Tax Breaks

A new rule issued by the Governmental Accounting Standards Board (GASB) will make it easier for the public to find out how much revenue is lost through special tax breaks and abatements for economic development. “The public needs to know how much these programs cost in order to judge whether they deliver enough to justify the lost revenues.” US PIRG’s Phineas Baxandall said in a statement. “Ordinary taxpayers must pick up the tab when governments issue these tax favors to select companies.” US PIRG reports annually on the accessibility of information about states’ contracts, subsidies, and more.

Save the Date: Open Government Town Hall

Join us in Washington, DC on September 9th for an open government town hall! Starting at 11:30am, we will hear from Laia Griño of InterAction, Catalina Reyes of Publish What You Fund, and Abigail Poe Akre of the Center for International Policy about government and civil society initiatives to make available information on foreign aid and security assistance, and impediments that remain for the public to access such information. The speakers have years of experience engaging in efforts to improve public access to information on U.S. security and development aid. Following the presentation, we will open the floor for a discussion of the openness issues and challenges of the day. RSVP here. Pizza and drinks will be provided!


Don’t miss from OTG:

The classified classification guidance on torture.


Public Access to CRS Reports is Vital to US Policymaking

On Monday, joined a bipartisan coalition of 40 organizations and 91 private citizens in calling for expanded public access to non-classified reports from the Congressional Research Service (CRS).

CRS reports undergo a rigorous administrative review process, and thus provide a highly respected, accurate, and impartial source of information. In today’s environment of overwhelming information from myriad sources, it is increasingly important to offer the public reliable research and contribute to an open, informed policymaking process.

The coalition, led by Demand Progress and R Street, expressed its position in a letter sent to Reps. Candice Miller (R-MI), Bob Brady (D-PA), and Gregg Harper (R-MS); and Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Charles Schumer (D-NY). These Members sit on the Committee on House Administration and the Senate Rules Committee, respectively, both of which hold influence on the issue of CRS reports.

Read the letter here.

CRS produces thousands of reports each year, providing research that informs a great deal of Congressional policymaking. Beyond Congress, the reports are cited in federal court opinions, articles in the New York Times and the Washington Post, and other forums of public debate. However, despite the more than $100 million that American taxpayers contribute to CRS each year, the public is often excluded from having direct access to these reports. The only means of public access to CRS products is through individuals and organizations that obtain them from Congressional sources or exclusive (often paid) subscriptions. Even the annual report CRS publishes is redacted, meaning there is no way to see a comprehensive list of reports completed in a given year.

Some CRS reports, such as those responding to a direct, confidential request from a Congressional office, must necessarily remain private. However, many reports do not contain classified or confidential information, and should therefore be made an accessible part of the public debate on policy issues.

In January, Rep. Leonard Lance (D-NJ) introduced H.Res.34, the Public Access to Congressional Research Service Reports Resolution of 2015, which would make the coalition’s position a reality. Like many of its legislative predecessors it has failed to progress toward a floor vote, but you can show your support for the bill by reaching out to your representative through our partner, the Center for Responsive Politics.