Thousands of reports from Congress’ think tank now online

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While legislation languishes in Congress that would make public reports lawmakers use to make their decisions, two members of Congress have taken matters into their own hands.

A bipartisan, unnamed pair of lawmakers have been providing Congressional Research Service reports to Demand Progress, which launched a new site Wednesday to host the more than 8,200 reports and counting. The reports, which cover everything from cybersecurity to irrigation, are sometimes made available to the public, but Demand Progress Policy Director Daniel Schuman said this is the first time he knows of that nearly all nonconfidential reports currently available to Congress have been made public.

The two congressional members are “programmatically” providing the reports to the organization, according to a press release. Users of the new site can also see what percentage of a report is different once it is updated.

Schuman actually worked as a legislative attorney for CRS in the past, and he noted Wednesday in a blog post that at the time he was surprised by “the unrelenting insistence by CRS that CRS reports should never be available to the public.”

“Over time, I came to realize that the policy concerning public access to CRS reports was counterproductive,” Schuman said in the post, noting that most people on Capitol Hill could get a copy, including members of Congress, lobbyists and special interest groups.

“But the general public, unless they knew a report existed, really did not have access,” he said.

“And that’s too bad,” Schuman wrote. “CRS reports are written for intelligent people who are not necessarily policy experts. In a world that’s awash with five second YouTube ads, horse race political coverage, and the endless screaming and preening of political figures, these reports are a good way to start to understand an issue.”

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., applauded Demand Progress’s work.

“Increasing transparency and accountability in government is not only the key to improving public trust, it is the key to improving the way government works,” he said in a statement. “While I will continue to work with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to create a congressionally maintained database for non-confidential CRS products, this website is a great resource for our constituents to access these important reports.”

And Rep. Leonard Lance, R-N.J., also said in a statement the website “will become a resource for many and bolster the argument for transparency.”

The reports, he notes in his statement, were paid for by taxpayer funds.

“The taxpayers should be able to read them,” he said. “It is past time to end the era of secrecy to these reports and open them to the benefit of research, reporting and public information.”

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