The Congressional Research Service (CRS), known as Congress's think tank
, is a public policy research institute
of the United States Congress
. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress
, CRS works primarily and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan
Its staff of approximately 600 employees includes lawyers, economists, reference librarians, and social, natural, and physical scientists.
In fiscal year 2016, CRS was appropriated
a budget of roughly $106.9 million by Congress.
[S. Rept. 114–258 – LEGISLATIVE BRANCH APPROPRIATIONS]
Despite numerous attempts to override a policy of "imiting
dissemination to Members of Congress" from 1952 until 2018, "publication" was restricted
; now "CRS makes non-confidential reports available on its website."
CRS is joined by two major congressional support agencies. The Congressional Budget Office
provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The Government Accountability Office
assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. Collectively, the three agencies employ more than 4,000 people.
As of mid-March 2019, CRS announced that it was adding "the back catalog of older CRS reports" and also introducing new publicly available reports, such as its "two-page executive level briefing documents."
In 1914, Senator Robert La Follette Sr.
and Representative John M. Nelson
, both of Wisconsin, promoted the inclusion in the legislative, executive, and judicial appropriations act of a provision directing the establishment of a special reference unit within the Library of Congress. Building upon a concept developed by the New York State Library
in 1890, and the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library in 1901, they were motivated by Progressive era
ideas about the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.
The move also reflected the expanding role of the librarian and the professionalization of the profession.
The new department was charged with responding to congressional requests for information.
The legislation authorized the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam
, to “employ competent persons to prepare such indexes, digests, and compilations of laws as may be required for Congress and other official use...” (The intent behind the creation of the agency can be derived from U.S. Senate, Committee on the Library, Legislative Drafting Bureau and Reference Division, 62d Cong., 3d sess., 1913, S. Rept.1271.)
Renamed the Legislative Reference Service and given a permanent authorization with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946
, it assisted Congress primarily by providing facts and publications and by transmitting research and analysis done largely by other government agencies, private organizations, and individual scholars.
The Library of Congress, the home of CRS, had experimented during the 1940s with unrestricted publication ''Public Affairs Bulletins'', which were produced by staff of the Legislative Reference Service, and devoted to various public policy issues. They were promoted by Archibald MacLeish
, the Librarian of Congress, and, among other topics, addressed timely policy issues, such as American national defense. About 100 ''Public Affairs Bulletins'' were generated
[Government Information Quarterly Volume 26, Issue 3, July 2009, Pages 437–440]
before congressional appropriators ended their production in 1951.
[See 65 Stat. 398.]
The renaming under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970
reflected the service's changing mission:
This legislation directed CRS to devote more of its efforts and increased resources to doing research and analysis that assists Congress in direct support of the legislative process.
When the ''Congressional Research Service Review'' was launched in 1980, it continued for a little more than a decade before congressional appropriators, once again, invoked fiscal closure. The Review, which was published ten times a year and available to the public by subscription, offered original analytical articles, summaries highlighting CRS research products, and other kinds of assistance to the congressional community.
As inquiries increased from 400,000 questions per year in 1980 to 598,000 in 2000, CRS sought to prepare itself for future challenges, initiating an organizational realignment in 1999. The realignment, which has required extensive relocation of staff and the design of more efficient workstations, was intended to promote improved communication within CRS and increase the service's ability to focus on legislative deliberations of Congress by applying its multidisciplinary expertise to public policy issues in user-friendly, accessible formats when Congress needs assistance.
CRS offers Congress research and analysis on all current and emerging issues of national policy.
CRS offers timely and confidential assistance to all Members and committees that request it, limited only by CRS's resources and the requirements for balance, nonpartisanship and accuracy.
CRS makes no legislative or other policy recommendations to Congress; its responsibility is to ensure that Members of the House and Senate have available the best possible information and analysis on which to base the policy decisions the American people have elected them to make.
In all its work, CRS analysts are governed by requirements for confidentiality, timeliness, accuracy, objectivity, balance, and nonpartisanship.
CRS services are not limited to those that relate directly to enacting new laws. For example, CRS attempts to assess emerging issues and developing problems so that it will be prepared to assist the Congress if and when it becomes necessary. Although it rarely conducts field research, CRS assists committees in other aspects of their study and oversight responsibilities. In addition, it offers numerous courses, including legal research seminars and institutes on the legislative process, the budget processes, and the work of district and state staff. At the beginning of each Congress, CRS also provides an orientation seminar for new Members.
CRS does not conduct research on sitting Members or living former Members of Congress, unless granted specific permission by that Member or if that Member is nominated by the President for another office.
CRS is now divided into six interdisciplinary research divisions, each of which is further divided into subject specialist sections. The six divisions are: American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; Knowledge Services; and Resources, Science and Industry.
The six research divisions are supported in their work by five “infrastructure” offices: Finance and Administration, Information Management and Technology, Counselor to the Director, Congressional Information and Publishing, and Workforce Management and Development.
Overview of services
Responses to Congressional requests take the form of reports, memoranda, customized briefings, seminars, videotaped presentations, information obtained from automated databases, and consultations in person and by telephone.
CRS "supports the Members, committees, and leaders of the House and Senate at all stages of the legislative process":
* ''Ideas for legislation''. A 2008 CRS report details how the service can assist legislators in evaluating the need for legislation:
At the preliminary stage, members may ask CRS to provide background information and analysis on issues and events so they can better understand the existing situation and then assess whether there is a problem requiring a legislative remedy. This assistance may be a summary and explanation of the scientific evidence on a technically complex matter, for example, or it may be a collection of newspaper and journal articles discussing an issue from different perspectives, or a comparative analysis of several explanations that have been offered to account for a generally recognized problem. CRS also identifies national and international experts with whom Members and staff may consult about whatever issues concern them and sponsors programs at which Members meet with experts to discuss issues of broad interest to Congress.
* ''Analyzing a bill''. The same 2008 report also clarifies the various ways in which the service further supports the work of legislators once a bill has been introduced:
If a Member decides to introduce a bill, CRS analysts can assist the legislator in clarifying the purposes of the bill, identifying issues it may address, defining alternative ways for dealing with them, evaluating the possible advantages and disadvantages of each alternative, developing information and arguments to support the bill, and anticipating possible criticisms of the bill and responses to them. Although CRS does not draft bills, resolutions, and amendments, its analysts may join staff consulting with the professional draftsman within each chamber’s Office of the Legislative Counsel as they translate the Member’s policy decisions into formal legislative language. Members and committees also can request CRS to help them assess and compare legislative proposals, including competing bills introduced by Members and proposals presented by executive branch officials, private citizens and organizations. CRS can assess the intent, scope, and limits, of the various proposals.
The report goes on:
During committee and floor consideration, CRS can assist Representatives and Senators in several different ways, in addition to providing background information to assist Members in understanding the issues a bill addresses. CRS attorneys can help clarify legal effects the bill may have. CRS policy analysts can work with Members in deciding whether to propose amendments and then in making certain that their amendments are designed and phrased to achieve the desired results. CRS also can help Members prepare for the debate by providing data and other information that they can use to support the positions they have decided to take.
* ''Hearings''. When a subcommittee selects a bill (or several bills on the same subject) for serious attention, it usually begins by conducting public hearings on one or more days at which executive branch officials, other Members of Congress, representatives of private organizations, and even individual citizens present their views on the bill's merits. CRS analysts can assist in this process by providing background information and reports, presenting a preliminary briefing to Members or staff, identifying potential witnesses, and suggesting questions that Members may consider asking the witnesses.
* ''Subcommittee or committee votes''. After the hearings on a bill, the subcommittee or committee meets to debate and vote on amendments to it. If requested, CRS staff may attend these meetings to serve as a nonpartisan source of expert information available to all Members. If the subcommittee and then the full committee conclude that new legislation is needed, they report a bill to the House or Senate for all its Members to consider. The committee also submits a written report that explains the background for its decision, analyzes the purposes and effects of each major provision of the bill, and includes other information, such as predictions about the cost of implementing it, that help other Members decide whether they should support the bill. CRS specialists may assist the committee's staff in preparing some sections of this report, although cost estimates are developed by the Congressional Budget Office.
* ''Parliamentary procedure''. CRS staff can clarify the legislative procedures of the House and Senate, assisting Members and staff in understanding the effects of these procedures and how Members can use the procedures to promote their own legislative goals.
* ''Conference committees''. CRS analysts can contribute to this last stage of the legislative process by helping identify the issues to be resolved, by clarifying and comparing the positions of the two houses on each issue, and by identifying different ways in which the legislative disagreements could be resolved.
CRS also performs several functions that support Congressional and public understanding of the legislative process and other issues.
* ''Bill Summaries''. Since 1935 the Legislative Analysis and Information Section (formerly "Bill Digest") of CRS has had statutory responsibility for preparation of authoritative, objective, nonpartisan summaries of introduced public bills and resolutions and maintenance of historical legislative information. Detailed revised summaries are written to reflect changes made in the course of the legislative process. This CRS office also prepares titles, bill relationships, subject terms, and Congressional Record citations for debates, full texts of measures, and Member introductory remarks. The bill summaries are released to the public via THOMAS
, the Library of Congress's online database.
* ''Constitution Annotated''. The American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service prepares the Constitution of the United States of America—Analysis and Interpretation (popularly known as the Constitution Annotated), a continuously updated legal treatise that explains the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Congressional Research Service reports
Reports by the Congressional Research Service, usually referred to as CRS Reports, are the encyclopedic research reports written to clearly define issues in a legislative context.
Over 700 new CRS reports are produced each year;] 566 new products were prepared in Fiscal Year 2011. Nearly 7,800 were in existence as of the end of 2011.
The types of CRS reports include Issue Briefs (IB), Research Memos (RM), and Reports, which appear in both Short (RS) and Long (RL) formats.
How to access CRS Reports
As of September 18, 2018, most CRS reports are available to the public through the official US Congress websit
Older CRS reports versions may be accessed from community supported sources.
Previously they were confidential. While not classified, they were exempt from FOIA due to Congressional privilege and therefore not readily accessible nor was their authenticity easily verifiable.
Other than a passing generi
reference to “reports”
in its statutory charter, CRS has no mandate for these products.
[See 2 U.S.C. § 166(d)(4).] They are created in the context of the overall mission of CRS to provide research support to Congress. [Government Information Quarterly Volume 26, Issue 3, July 2009, Pages 437-440]
The Library of Congress, the home of CRS, had experimented during the 1940s with unrestricted publication ''Public Affairs Bulletins'', which were produced by staff of the Legislative Reference Service, and devoted to various public policy issues. They were promoted by Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress, and, among other topics, addressed timely policy issues, such as American national defense. About 100 ''Public Affairs Bulletins'' were generated before congressional appropriators ended their production in 1951.
When the ''Congressional Research Service Review'' was launched in 1980, it continued for a little more than a decade before congressional appropriators, once again, invoked fiscal closure with the last issue published v. 13 #9 (Sept. 1992). The Review, which was published ten times a year and available to the public by subscription, offered original analytical articles, summaries highlighting CRS research products, and other kinds of assistance to the congressional community.
''The New York Times'' has written that the reports contain
* neither classified information
* nor copyrighted information.
However, in a passage analyzing its own liability under United States copyright law, the CRS has written:
:"CRS may incorporate preexisting material in its written responses to congressional requests. Although such material is often from public domain sources, in certain instances the material, appropriately credited, may be from copyrighted sources. To the extent that the material is copyrighted, CRS either:
::*obtains permission for the use;
::*considers its information-gathering function protected by the speech or debate clause;
::*or believes that the use falls under the "fair use" doctrine of the Copyright Act as applied in the context of the legislative process."
::"Although CRS obtains permission to reproduce certain copyrighted works, the permissions are generally based on legislative use and the expectation that dissemination is limited to Members of Congress."
Thus, persons seeking public domain content in CRS reports can avoid infringing copyright by paying attention to the internal citations.
CRS written work products fall into three major categories:(1) Congressionally Distributed Products Providing Research and Analysis on Legislative Issues, (2) Responses to Individual Members and Committees, and (3) Legislative Summaries, Digests, and Compilations.
Congressionally Distributed Products Providing Research and Analysis on Legislative Issues itself is broken into two subcategories: Reports for Congress and Congressional Distribution Memoranda.
''Reports for Congress'': CRS often prepares reports for Congress, analyses, or studies on specific policy issues of legislative interest. These reports clearly define issues in legislative contexts. Analysts define and explain technical terms and concepts, frame the issues in understandable and timely contexts, and provide appropriate, accurate, and valid quantitative data. The content of the report is summarized on its first page. These reports may be updated as events occur, or archived when they no longer reflect the current legislative agenda but can provide background and historical context.
''Congressional Distribution Memoranda'': Similar to the reports, memoranda are prepared when the interest of a relatively small number of congressional readers is anticipated or when an issue is sufficiently transient that CRS deems it inappropriate to include it in its list of products. Memoranda can be recast as a report if it becomes important to a larger congressional audience.
Responses to Individual Members and Committees: CRS staff provide custom services for Members and committees and their staff, tailored to address specific questions, and usually in a memorandum format. Written documents include Confidential Memoranda, Email Responses, and Briefing Books.
''Confidential Memoranda'': Confidential memoranda are prepared to meet a specific congressional request and are often designed for a congressional reader with a high level of expertise in a given topic. These memoranda are prepared for the use of the requester and are not distributed by CRS to a larger audience unless the requester gives permission.
''Email Responses'': Email responses to request for information can range from providing a statistic or a name to a short briefing to an interactive discussion on a variety of issues.
''Briefing Books'': Prepared for use by congressional delegations traveling abroad, these books are collections of material that support the specific purposes of a congressional trip. Briefing books can include a variety of materials, such as maps, selected products, and brief tailored written work, all of which contain background and current issues regarding U.S. relations with specific countries on the trip as well as questions Members may ask when meeting with government or other officials.
Legislative Summaries, Digests, and Compilations: Since 1935, the Legislative Analysis and Information Section (formerly the "Bill Digest" section) of CRS has had the statutory responsibility for preparation of authoritative, objective, nonpartisan summaries of introduced public bills and resolutions and the maintenance of historical legislative information. Detailed revised summaries are written to reflect changes made in the course of the legislative process. This CRS office also prepares titles, bill relationships, subject terms, and ''Congressional Record'' citations for debates, full text of measures, and Member introductory remarks.
The confidentiality status of Congressional Research Service reports, until September 18, 2018, was a matter of contention due to the lack of public access to research that was paid for by taxpayer money.
Congress had historically reserved to itself control over the dissemination of CRS products to the public on the principle that CRS, as an extension of congressional staff, works exclusively for the Congress: "dissemination is limited to Members of Congress."
From 1952 until 2018 a provision was included in CRS annual appropriations acts requiring approval by one of its two congressional oversight committees for acts of "publication" by the CRS.
The limitation began in the House as a flat prohibition on publications by the Library of Congress using funds appropriated to the Legislative Reference Service (now CRS). In 1954 a provision was added providing for exception only with the approval of our oversight committees.
Unlocking CRS report access
* 1978: The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) issued a proposal under which CRS would have received access to the files of State research materials abstracted by the NCSL, and would have had the opportunity to order copies of desired items for use in answering congressional inquiries. In return, CRS would have provided the NCSL with periodic listings of CRS Reports (called "multiliths" at that time) and with only one copy of those CRS Reports which the NCSL requested. Under this proposal the NCSL also would have gained access to certain files from the Library of Congress's SCORPIO system, including CRS Issue Briefs. A congressional committee expressed the view that it was appropriate for Members of Congress, rather than CRS, to determine whether and to what extent various CRS products should be publicly disseminated. As a result, no action was taken to implement the proposed CRS-NCSL exchange.
* 1980: The Joint Committee on the Library released a policy statement regarding the publication of CRS written products:
that said "the long-standing policy of confidentiality in the work of CRS for individual congressional clients should be maintained" and gave cost as part of its reason. A subsequent statement referred to "the legislative process and .. the Speech or Debate Clause of the Constitution.
* 1990: Facing a challenge, the Senate Majority Leader reiterated the importance of "protecting the work done by CRS in preparing communications to the Members and committees of Congress": and elaborated
by noting "A committee or Member of the Senate, of course, may determine to make available to the public a report or memorandum which the Congressional Research Service has provided to the committee or Senator... Nevertheless, ... it is important to protect the confidentiality of CRS's preparatory work in order to encourage the freest possible exploration by CRS..."
* 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003: Attempts were made by members of congress to pass legislation requiring the CRS to make its products available on a public web site. [ All failed to pass.
Some members of congress used committee websites to disseminate individual reports, beginning in 1998. Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) was the first to act, putting almost 300 CRS products on his website. They were subsequently removed.
Representatives Shays and Mark Green (R-WI)—have placed many CRS products on their own websites in an attempt to make some CRS products available to the public.]
"Reports are produced by the Congressional Research Service staff for the education of members of Congress," Kyle Anderson, a spokesman for the House Administration Committee, which has jurisdiction over the issue in the House, wrote in an e-mail message to ''The New York Times''. "Just as other memos produced by staffers for members of Congress aren't made public, these are not." [
This was countered by a clarification saying that the goal was the public release of only reports the research service produces, not the memorandums it also writes for members of Congress.] [ (Former) Senator Joseph I. Lieberman said in an e-mail message to ''The New York Times''. "These reports inform members of Congress and their staffs on a wide range of issues. The American people, who pay for these reports, should be able to learn from this same expert analysis."] [
1997 CRS memorandum
In a December 1997 memorandum, the CRS summarized the "Legal Issues Presented by Proposals for the General Release of CRS Products to the Public":
*Speech and debate immunity: Reducing "substantial role in the legislative process". Such proposals might "cause the judiciary and administrative agencies to reassess their perception of CRS as playing a substantial role in the legislative process, and thereby might endanger a claim of peech and Debate Clauseimmunity even in an instance in which CRS was fulfilling its legislative mission (e.g., by preparing a confidential memorandum for a Member on a pending bill.)"
*Libel, slander, and defamation. CRS also believes that slander or libel actions might occur more frequently if CRS products were put on the Internet, because more people would read CRS products and know of their existence.
*Confidentiality of CRS files. CRS believes that broader dissemination of CRS products would likely inspire more litigants who wish to obtain, for purposes of discovery, the files of CRS analysts. This might, CRS argues, cause the public release of correspondence between Members of Congress and CRS.
*Copyright infringement. CRS argues that it might be subject to claims of copyright infringement if CRS products were available on the Internet. CRS sometimes incorporates copyrighted work into its reports and products. (Elsewhere, the CRS notes that these inclusions are always "appropriately credited".)
Responses to the 1997 CRS memorandum
Memorandum of Gary Ruskin
On January 5, 1998, Gary Ruskin, Director of the Congressional Accountability Project, wrote a memorandum which disputed each of the arguments in the 1997 CRS memorandum.
Letter of Stanley M. Brand
On January 27, 1998, Stanley M. Brand, the former General Counsel to the House of Representatives, wrote a letter to Senator John McCain:
(See also his letter addressing a 2001 reintroduction of the same legislation.
John McCain cited this letter on the Senate floor when he was proposing an amendment to the Legislative Branch Appropriations Act 1999 that would direct the Director of the Congressional Research Service to post `CRS Reports to Congress' and `CRS Issue Briefs' on the Internet. In this speech, he also noted:
Current Members of Congress and their offices may access the CRS website (www.crs.gov) and CRS's Legislative Information Service (LIS) website (www.congress.gov). The two sites are the most comprehensive and integrated sources of information regarding workings of the federal government, and are arguably the best sources of information regarding the legislative process of the United States.
These sites provide all information necessary to become informed about any aspect of government. They also have the information needed to keep up-to-the-minute on most legislation including information from past bills similar to the current legislation; historical information about the legislation; biographical data about the Members who introduced it; the ability to track the legislation as it moves through committee hearings to the Floor; and links to information about the legislation in the Congressional Record, Floor and committee schedule information, and the Federal Register.
Neither of these websites is available to the public. In order to prevent public access to the websites, CRS has erected an elaborate firewall to keep the public out. Taxpayers are only allowed access to THOMAS (thomas.loc.gov). In fact, when the public tries to access the LIS, they are automatically forwarded to THOMAS without warning.] [
www.crs.gov. The CRS website provides CRS publications on current legislative issues, electronic briefing books, information on the legislative and budget processes, a searchable database of all CRS products, and other information about Congressional procedures and activities.
www.congress.gov. The LIS website is specifically designed to track legislation and legislative activity. According to the CRS, "The LIS ... provides bill summary and status, full text of legislation and public laws, full text of committee reports, hearings, and other documents, and the Congressional Record for the current and earlier Congresses. The system also gives (and is searchable by) committee, sponsorship, and cosponsorship; identification of identical bills; and other information." The LIS varies substantially from the system which is available to the public at the Library of Congress' THOMAS website (thomas.loc.gov). In fact, CRS has a special page detailing the enhanced capabilities of the restricted LIS website over the public THOMAS website.
The following is CRS's comparison of the LIS (www.congress.gov) with THOMAS (thomas.loc.gov):
Document types include CRS Reports, appropriations Reports (usually released as a Long Report), and Congressional distribution memoranda.
The most commonly requested CRS product is the general congressional distribution reports, known as "CRS Reports". The purpose of a report is to clearly define the issue in the legislative context.
[ The types of CRS reports include Issue Briefs (IB), Research Memos (RM), and Reports, which appear in both Short (RS) and Long (RL) formats.
Other than a passing generic reference to "reports" in its statutory charter, CRS has no mandate for these products.] They are created in the context of the overall mission of CRS to provide research support to Congress.
The reports may take many forms, including policy analysis, economic studies, statistical reviews, and legal analyses. [
CRS reports are considered in-depth, accurate, objective, and timely, and topped the list of the "10 Most-Wanted Government Documents" survey by the Center for Democracy and Technology in 1996.
Public access to CRS Reports
Prior to September 2018, CRS products were only made directly available to members of Congress, Congressional committees, and CRS's sister agencies (CBO and GAO) through the internal CRS Web system. Since as of September 18, 2018, the official US government website
"makes non-confidential reports available on its website" [ alternative access sites are less needed.]
* Federal Research Division
Congressional Research Service
Perform a search within ''Congressional Research Service reports''
is a free republishing project by "Demand Progress''
"Started in 2016 with support from anonymous members of Congress EveryCRSReport.com has received every new report and republished them for free public access."
Internet Archive collection of sites that publish CRS reports
harvests include OpenCRS (free access to many CRS reports), UNT, FAS, Thurgood Marshall Law Library and others.
– A website about CRS
Category:Agencies of the United States Congress
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