Information is power: the OpenCRS Project

In the early 80s (as I’ve mentioned on this blog before), I worked in a congressional office on Capitol Hill. One of the amazing resources available to members of congress and their staffs is a group of very smart people who work at the Library of Congress who pull together research on policy issues. The Congressional Research Service issues a constant stream of reports on topics related to practically any policy issue you can imagine. When I was a hill staffer, one of my favorite wonk-hideaways was a reading room in the Madison Building of the Library of Congress where CRS reports were distributed. Back when I worked on the Hill — over 20 years ago — a member of Congress would freely distribute a CRS report to constituents who knew what to ask for. Some really smart high school students working on term papers seemed to have figured out this source back in the pre-Web days.

While occasionally, I see links to PDFs of certain CRS reports, I’ve always wondered why that incredible material from the Library of Congress has never made it onto the Internet as a body-of-work, or organized resource. Now (via a link from Susan Crawford), from this essay by Ari Schwartz of the Center for Democracy & Technology, I know: Some powerful Members of Congress don’t think that would be a good thing. Boils down to “information is power” issues. Simply stated, there are key members of Congress who don’t want CRS reports (and other information from CRS and its policy experts) disseminated because they include unbiased research that may contradict their political stances.

The law of information physics in a free society* dictates that for every power to shut off people from information there is an equal and opposite power that will open it up. Therefore, I should have deduced that some group would have conceived and developed of an idea like The OpenCRS project.

According to their website, OpenCRS is a project of the Center for Democracy & Technology through the cooperation of several organizations and collectors of Congressional Research Service (CRS) Reports. Open CRS provides citizens access to CRS Reports already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports.

While certain CRS reports are already available in different places on the Web and from commercial services that re-sell them, the OpenCRS project is an effort to pull them all together in one location.

This is good.

*Which I just made up, but I’m sure exists somewhere.