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A New Focus on Transparency for the Congressional Research Service
Posted On March 15, 2016
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“The LexisNexis Congressional basic subscription provides citations for CRS reports contained in hearings, committee prints, and other congressional publications from 1970 forward, and provides abstracts and indexing for CRS reports issued as official congressional publications,” LexisNexis states. “Some CRS reports have been issued as House or Senate documents, reports, or committee prints, while others are available as attachments to various types of publications. In addition to providing access to versions of ‘official’ CRS reports, LexisNexis Congressional provides access to numerous memos and witness submitted statements authored by CRS staff. In all cases, the bibliographic information provided is sufficient to allow the user to locate microfiche or print versions elsewhere in the library.”

LexisNexis Congressional is also working on providing “annotated indexing and searchable PDFs for a collection of CRS prints (1916-2003) through the optional Congressional Research Digital Collection retrospective module, and annotated indexing and searchable PDFs for CRS reports from 2004 forward through the optional Congressional Research Digital Collection prospective module.”

The ProQuest Congressional Research Digital Collection provides access to reports that are collected (and often digitized) from a variety of sources, including library collections, congressional committee prints, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), and CBO (Congressional Budget Office). The collection has more than 81,000 reports from CRS and its predecessor, the Legislative Reference Service, 60% of which were published from 2004 to the present.

Other Availability

The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) “endeavors to provide current, regularly updated public access to as many non-confidential CRS reports as possible.” Anyone interested can subscribe (for free) to FAS’ Secrecy News blog to receive an RSS feed of “[n]ew and updated reports from the Congressional Research Service that have been withheld from online public distribution.”

In 2002, representatives from the UNT (University of North Texas) Digital Library began “the process of capturing Congressional Research Service reports available via the Internet and provid[ing] permanent public access to them. Reports were downloaded from a variety of web sites that host CRS reports, either currently or in the past. Many CRS reports are updated on a regular basis, and this site includes all versions of the reports that could be located. … Metadata has been created for each report, including subject terms from the Legislative Indexing Vocabulary, supplemented with Library of Congress Subject Headings. Users have the ability to search by keyword, title, author, subject, and report number.”

According to its website, “Penny Hill Press is the only source from whom all Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports are available. Each weekday we make available that day’s reports that have been posted to our website. By accessing this website on a daily basis you can thus be among the first to learn of newly available and newly updated CRS reports. … Penny Hill Press offers same-day delivery of all publications of the Congressional Research Service.” Annual subscriptions to Penny Hill Press’ Congressional Research Report cost $399 for subscribers in the U.S. and Canada or $479 for foreign air mail subscribers.

CRS reports are not the only reports authored for Congress. For example, CBO produces reports and cost estimates for proposed legislation. GAO investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars, issuing reports it makes available to the public through its website, topic-specific RSS feeds, podcasts, and videos. GAO reports containing classified information are withheld, although there is a webpage that at least alerts the public that a report has been issued to Congress. It would be reasonable to provide the public with links to the reports that are already in the public domain from an authoritative URL to ensure the authenticity of the documents.

Related GPO News

Last month, the GPO announced the launch of govinfo. FedScoop calls it “a flexible platform offering updates on the federal government and streaming a bounty of content from the Library of Congress. Launched as a beta, the site will permanently replace GPO’s current digital archive [the Federal Digital System] starting in 2017.” Geared to mobile users, the site already contains “more than 1.5 million documents, including the Federal Register, the Congressional Record, U.S. Courts Opinions and proposed Senate Bills,” with more added daily. Users are encouraged to try the new site and provide feedback via a survey.

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Barbie E. Keiser is an information resources management consultant located in the metropolitan Washington, D.C., area.

Email Barbie E. Keiser

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