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CRS Reports - The Research Congress Uses, Available to Us

July 14, 2010
Would you like to see the research that helps Congress frame issues?  If so, you will want to look the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports. As an agency of the Library of Congress, CRS functions as the “personal librarian” to congressional members, providing comprehensive research on timely issues.  Members of Congress “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 … .  CRS [also] attempts to assess emerging issues and developing problems so that it will be prepared to assist the Congress if and when it becomes necessary” (The Congressional Research Service and the American Legislative Process, 2008). CRS reports provide in-depth, non-partisan analysis of topical policy issues – supplying background information, relevant laws, statistical data, research citations, and more.  The reports are succinct and focus on framing each issue within a legislative framework.  In some cases, the reports may even be foretelling.  For example, a 2006 version of the below report stated that “the threat of oil spills raises the question of whether US officials have the necessary resources at hand to respond to a major spill.”
So where are the best places to find this superior research?  Unfortunately, there is no one database that contains all of the reports. 
Why?  Because CRS, though funded by tax-payers at more than $100 million dollars per year, operates under a statutory provision which prohibits the office from making their reports directly available to the public.  This restriction maintains the special confidential relationship between Congress and CRS (see the PDF letter, “Access to CRS Reports” from the Director of CRS to his staff). 


The reports can, however, come into the public domain if they are released by a member of Congress.  Since the reports are created by an official government entity, they cannot be copyrighted and thus do not face legal restrictions to distribution by third parties.
One of the best starting points for locating recent CRS reports is LexisNexis Congressional.  This database contains many of the reports from 2004 to the present in PDF format.    
You can also find reports from a number of open-access advocates.  One of the largest indexes of CRS reports is located at Open CRS, a project of the Center for Democracy and Technology.  Open CRS provides search functionality for a diverse collection of reports from various organizations, often with the ability to download the reports in PDF.   
If you are interested in older CRS reports (1970-2008), take a look at Biddle’s online catalog, LOLA.  Search by Author with the phrase “Library of Congress. Congressional Research Service” and you will get 17,570 results.  Most of these reports are held in the microform format and can be viewed or printed in room T-216.
Whatever method you use to find a CRS report, the end result will be well worth your time and effort.  So the next time you are working on a topic, remember to search the available CRS reports to see if there is a relevant publication.