Open Data

Bill would open congressional research to public

Hudson Hollister

Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, applauds a bill that would allow public access to Congressional Research Service reports.

A data transparency advocacy group is giving thumbs up on a reintroduced bill that would allow public access to Congressional Research Service reports – for which Americans already pay more than $100 million annually to fund.

The Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Act of 2012 was reintroduced March 7, but different versions of it date back as far as Nov. 21, 2003. This time around, it received the support of Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.)

The proposed legislation aims to increase government openness by mandating the public release of unclassified reports produced by the Congressional Research Service, which conducts public policy analysis as Congress’ research arm.

"By making these taxpayer-funded reports more accessible to the public, we can increase transparency and empower everyday citizens to continue being the government’s best watchdog," Quigley said in a statement.

These reports have to date only been available from private companies, which charge for access, despite U.S taxpayers paying more than $100 million a year to fund them, said Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition.

As long as government information does not disclose sensitive data or threaten national security, citizens should be allowed to access it – and do so for free, he told FCW. "When taxpayers pay for these reports and there is not some compelling legal reason not to publish, they should be published," he said.

The act would also make CRS reports machine readable so they can be easily searched, sorted and downloaded, Hollister added.

Plenty of federal information is published as documents or formats that make it hard to extract data, he said. For example, the tax filings of nonprofits are public, but the Internal Revenue Service’s process is to first print them, then scan them and finally store them as graphics, Hollister explained. "That’s not true transparency because it takes so much effort to get useful information out of those graphics files," he said.

The reintroduced legislation received the endorsement of numerous other advocates for more congressional transparency, including the Sunlight Foundation, Washington Coalition for Open Government, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, and Government Accountability Project. These groups, and many others, previously expressed their support in a March 1 letter to Lance and Quigley.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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