Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Congressional Research Service Reports

Wondering about the mechanics of the government shutdown or raising the debt ceiling?  Mark Giangrande at Law Librarians Blog identifies several government reports that will answer your questions:
The three reports in Giangrande's post highlight a valuable resource every legal researcher should be aware of: the Congressional Research Service (CRS).  CRS is a nonpartisan agency that provides policy and legal analysis to members of Congress.  Individual legislature and Congressional committees request information on a topic, and CRS's expert researchers create reports with insightful and comprehensive analysis. 

CRS issues reports related to most major pieces of legislation, as well as controversial issues.  It also issues reports on more mundane topics, such as Procedural Distinctions Between the House and the Committee of the Whole and Relief Portraits Located on the Walls of the Rayburn House Office Building Terminal of the House Subway and Over the Gallery Doors in the House Chamber.  CRS will research anything a member of Congress asks about, from a case before the Supreme Court to the basics of the legislative process.

Because of the breadth of the topics, CRS reports are an excellent place to check for background whenever you are researching an issue related to federal legislation or the federal government.  CRS reports are public domain documents, but unfortunately that does not mean they are publicly available.  CRS does not publish its reports to the public.  Still, there are several ways to get access to the reports.

The Federation of American Scientists, Department of State, Open CRS, and the University of North Texas all offer collections of CRS reports.  These sites are all freely accessible.  But they have limited collections.  The Federation of American Scientists, Open CRS, and the University of North Texas are able to make available only CRS reports that have been requested from members of Congress and either given to the collections or made discoverable via another free website.  The Department of State provides access to reports back to 1999; older reports are not available.

Another source of CRS reports is ProQuest Congressional.  This database provides access to a wide array of federal legislative documents.  The Law Library's subscription includes ProQuest's complete collection of CRS reports, 1916-present. Access is limited to Western New England University students, faculty, and staff.

To search the CRS reports on ProQuest Congressional:
  1. Open the database
  2. Select Advanced Search
  3. Select CRS Reports from the list of searchable collections
  4. Enter your search terms and click Search

For more information about the Congressional Research Service itself, take a look in our archives at this excellent post by Renee from last year.

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