Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are a gold mine of information for legal researchers. Written at the request of members of Congress, these high-quality reports cover a wide range of topics. Unfortunately, the reports are not available to the members of the public who pay for them. As explained in an article in Politico, the nonpartisan, unclassified reports are “officially available only to members of Congress and their staff.” Despite this, they are unofficially circulated to “the administration, lobbyists, reporters, foreign diplomats and other Beltway insiders.” In addition, private firms sell access to their private collections of CRS reports. There are unofficial collections made available through Wikileaks, the Federation of American Scientists, and several other organizations. Some are now accessible through HeinOnline and Bloomberg Law, but there is no official publication.
Legislators have been trying for some time to change the rules and require CRS to release its reports. Senators Patrick Leahy and John McCain have led the fight in the Senate, but are not currently involved with the issue. A bill was introduced in the House in January 2015 that would require that the reports be available in a searchable database with indexing. The sponsors, Representatives Mike Quigley and Leonard Lance, are optimistic that this time around the legislation will be successful. According to John Byers, Representative Lance’s spokesperson, “No one is really blocking it … It’s more of a function of change is tough.”