Congressional Research Service reports
Reports by the Congressional Research Service, usually referred to as CRS Reports, are the encyclopedic, public domain research reports written to clearly define issues in a legislative context. Over 700 new CRS reports are produced each year; almost 4,000 exist. 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 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.
CRS reports may contain excerpts of material from copyrighted sources. However, this content will be "appropriately credited". Thus, persons seeking public domain content in CRS reports can avoid infringing copyright by paying attention to the internal citations.
The New York Times has written,
However, in a passage analyzing its own liability under United States copyright law, the CRS has written that its works may contain copyrighted information, but that these excerpts are always "appropriately credited":
- "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."
CRS adds that:
- "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."
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.
How to access CRS Reports
Many but not all CRS reports can be obtained through specialized publishers such as Penny Hill Press, or from web archives such as OpenCRS, which relies on individual submissions to maintain its collection. OpenCRS has also published instructions for US citizens on how to request reports from their member of congress, but neither the Congress nor the CRS are obligated to satisfy such requests. However, as there is no accurate public list or catalog of CRS publications, all unreleased reports are effectively secret.
Over the years, and at the request of CRS, the Joint Committee on the Library has authorized a very limited number of CRS publications for broader distribution through depository libraries, the sales program of the Superintendent of Documents, and to the public through individual purchases. In addition, several CRS products are published as the result of specific statutory authorization: the Digest of General Public Bills and Resolutions (Bill Digest) [which ceased publication in 1990 with the edition covering the 2nd session of the 101st Congress] and three publications for which CRS has been given responsibility by the Librarian of Congress: the Constitution of the United States of America, Analysis and Interpretation (Constitution Annotated); and the national high school and college debate topic manuals.
Confidentiality of CRS Reports
While some CRS research and reports may reach the American public, the policy of CRS is to not make them directly available to members of the public; instead, they are "leaked" to the public at the discretion of congressional clients. There have been several attempts to pass legislation requiring all reports to be made available online, most recently in 2003, but none have passed.
Instead, the public must request individual reports from their Senators and Representatives in Congress, purchase them from private vendors, or search for them in various web archives of previously released documents. CRS reports topped the list of the "10 Most-Wanted Government Documents" survey by the Center for Democracy and Technology, 1996.
- Guide to CRS Reports on the Web
- "How do I locate copies of Congressional Research Service Reports?". Loyola University Chicago Law Library. August 2005. Retrieved 2013-07-06.
- See 2 U.S.C. § 166(d)(4).
- Government Information Quarterly Volume 26, Issue 3, July 2009, Pages 437-440
- See 65 Stat. 398.
- Strom, Stephanie (May 5, 2009). "Group Seeks Public Access to Congressional Research". The New York Times. Retrieved April 30, 2010.
- "Congressional Policy Concerning the Distribution of CRS Written Products to the Public". Congressional Research Service. March 9, 1999. Retrieved 2009-07-27.
- Annual Report of the Congressional Research Service of the Library of Congress for Fiscal Year 2011, pp. 31-35
- Change you can download: a billion in secret Congressional reports; Archive link
- 2 U.S.C. 166(d)(6).
- 2 U.S.C. 168.
- 44 U.S.C. 1333.
- "The Congressional Research Service and the American Legislative Process". Congressional Research Service. 2008. Retrieved 2009-07-25.
- 10 Most Wanted Government Documents
- Congressional Research Service official website
- Congressional Research Service (CRS Report Summaries) at Penny Hill Press
- Congressional Research Service (CRS) at UCB Libraries GovPubs
- Internet Archive collection of sites that publish CRS reports: one-stop shop for CRS reports. harvests include OpenCRS, UNT, FAS, Thurgood Marshall Law Library and others.
- Guide to CRS Reports on the Web
- Open CRS Network, CRS archive by the Center for Democracy and Technology which offers free access to many CRS reports.
- Source Watch website about CRS.
- University of North Texas Libraries Congressional Research Service Reports archive
- Federation of American Scientists Congressional Research Service Reports archive
- Franklin Pierce Law Center CRS Reports archive
- United States Department of State Foreign Press Center CRS Reports archive
- University of Maryland School of Law, Thurgood Marshall Law Library CRS Reports archive