Open CRS Network

Amanda Butler passes on word “Via Josh at OxBlog, the Open_CRS Network, which seeks to compile a database of all Congressional Research Service reports that are in the public domain.”

While at first blush this sounds like a fantastic idea, she worries about a possible chilling effect on honest discourse:

Nifty as it would be to have all of these reports easily accessible, I have not yet decided whether or not I think this would be a good idea. Currently, CRS reports only enter the public domain once a senator or representative releases them, and even then, they’re difficult to find (perhaps analogous to courthouse records in the back filing cabinet behind the “beware of the leopard” sign).

I’m inclined not to believe that making CRS reports generally available to the public would not cause a burden upon the CRS itself: as it stands, these are internal memos designed to be frank and honest and nonpartisan. They are not intended to be used as ammunition. They are not peer-reviewed. They are simply designed to be useful to members of Congress. If they must also be safe for public consumption, will they be able to fill that role?

Interesting questions. One presumes that, initially at least, it would still require a Member’s approval to release a report. Once the expectation grows that the reports will be available, though, the pressure to release all of them may be difficult to resist.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Oldtom says:

    Since when did fodder for public debate depend on peer review?

    Wouldn’t it be valuable to know what info our Congresscritters were using to make decisions?

    Wouldn’t it be a good idea to open the info to analysis and fact checking?

  2. Chris says:

    What’s the big deal here. Let me demonstrate how easy it is to get a CRS report:

    Ring, ring,
    Office of Represtative Elijah Cummings…
    Hello, may I speak to the staffer handling social security…
    Hello, this lowly legislative assistant Jones, how are you…
    Fine, can you e-mail me a CRS report reviewing the use of private accounts in the Chilaen public retirement system?
    Yes, sure right away, what’s your e-mail.

    Dumdumdumdeedumdum… Zip
    Ah, there it is.