Last week, a bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced a House resolution intended to provide wider public access to reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service. CRS staff members research and draft reports on current legislative and policy concerns, which are made accessible to all members of Congress. The reports give important background information to lawmakers on such diverse topics as the impact of recent Supreme Court decisions, the political outlook in other countries, and even the procedure for naming U.S. Navy ships.
Their access to the public is far more unpredictable, though – citizens may request free copies of particular reports from their elected representatives, assuming that they are able to identify a desired report title. A commercial publisher, Penny Hill Press, provides RSS feeds of newly-released reports, and sells them as PDF downloads for around $30 each. As described in the library's research guide to Federal Legislative History, the full text of CRS reports dating back to 1916 are also available to current Duke University students, faculty and staff through the ProQuest Congressional subscription database. Other sites attempt to collect and provide free access to these uncopyrightable government publications, such as the University of North Texas, the OpenCRS Network, and the Federation of American Scientists. Currently, though, there is no free source which provides comprehensive access to all CRS reports.
As noted in an informative blog post from The Sunlight Foundation, there have been several previous attempts to provide wider public access to CRS reports, which were originally restricted in the 1950s due more to concerns about the cost of printing than out of a need to keep the reports confidential. The current resolution, "Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Resolution of 2012" (H. Res. 727) can be read at THOMAS, which also provides up-to-date information on the bill's progress.
For more information on researching CRS reports or tracking the progress of the House resolution, be sure to Ask a Librarian.