Secrecy – Not Just at the Pleasure of the President

Do you ever wonder what your Congressperson reads? What kind of non-partisan information the government supplies to the legislative branch? Information about silly little issues like Iran’s Nuclear Program: Recent Developments?

Stop wondering. The Congressional Research Service (CRS) provides all kinds of reports to Congress.

What is the CRS? From their web page

Congress created CRS in order to have its own source of nonpartisan, objective analysis and research on all legislative issues. Indeed, the sole mission of CRS is to serve the United States Congress. CRS has been carrying out this mission since 1914, when it was first established as the Legislative Reference Service. Renamed the Congressional Research Service by the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970, CRS is committed to providing the Congress, throughout the legislative process, comprehensive and reliable analysis, research and information services that are timely, objective, nonpartisan, and confidential, thereby contributing to an informed national legislature.

And one might think that with a budget of about $100 Million, this information would be shared. Ah – you dreamer you.

You see, the CRS might want to contribute to an “informed national legislature” but not to an informed nation. Not because some of this information wasn’t available, it just won’t be available anymore to you.

At least not if the current director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan , has his way.

The CRS is a non-partisan organisation, but non-partisanship only goes so far. It might extend across party lines but not (banish the thought!) across branches of government or even to the public. You see in the interests of – um – whoever seemed to think this was a really good idea, it has been determined that this information has just been too available to those wild and crazy people in other branches of government.

According to a March 20th memo put out by the director of the CRS, Daniel P. Mulhollan, this free sharing of information has to stop!

The dissemination of CRS products to the public has historically been controlled by the Congress. Statue as well as policy guidance from making any broad publication of its products. Products have generally not been made available to non-congressionals directly from CRS, with notable exceptions. For example, specifically identified individual products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to executive and judicial branch offices and employees, and state and local government officials. The research divisions have also distributed products to such entities when it has been deemed to enhance CRS service to the Congress. Additionally, CRS products have been furnished by the Inquiry Section to members of the media and foreign embassies on request, but only if the requester can make specific reference to the product number or title of the report. Product requests can also originate from other non-congressional sources including individual researchers, corporations, law officies, private associations, libraries, law firms and publishers. The Inquiry Section typically declines these requests, and most often refers the caller to his or her congressional representative’s office. However, research divisions have on occasion both received and responded to product requests from these same public sources, and have, on occasion, provided products at their own initiative.

In summary, to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals. Assistant and deputy assistant director questions about the policy should be directed to the Office of the Associate Director for Congressional Affairs and Counselor to the Director.

Perhaps they are starting to work like the administration. Say Nothing!

Now in this case, it doesn’t look like the Bush administration has anything (directly) to do with this. Mr Mulhollan has been director of the Service since 1994, so he is probably not exactly a loyal Bushie.

But this will slow down a already cumbersome process of attempting to recover this information. There are a few places where a subset of the reports can be accessed, like OpenCRS, the Federation of American Scientists and the State Departement of all people, do have some of these reports available for download.

But the process just got a little more complex, the world a little more secretive.

Because secrecy. That’s not just at the pleasure of the president. Congress can get involved too.

(Hat Tip: Noah Shachtman/Danger Room)

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