You Paid for it but You Can't Have it

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By Eva Lang - The Congressional Research Service (CRS) , a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, produces thousands of reports and analyses each year that help lawmakers make sense of complex issues and legislation. The reports are non-partisan and are noted for their balance and thoroughness. However, despite the fact that the CRS is funded by tax dollars, these reports are not made available directly to the public. Instead, the public must request individual reports from their senators and representatives.

What sort of topics get coverage by the CRS? Just about any issue that Congress would have a desire to know more about. Certainly many of these topics will also be of interest to business appraisers looking for industry information or legislative data. Titles include: “The Credit Card Market: Recent Trends, Funding Cost Issues, and Repricing Practices; U.S. Furniture Manufacturing: Overview and Prospects; Economic Factors Affecting Small Business Lending and Loan Guarantees; The American Steel Industry: A Changing Profile; and the US Farm Economy.

Thankfully the Center for Democracy & Technology, started a service called “Open CRS” which provides citizens access to CRS Reports that are already in the public domain and encourages Congress to provide public access to all CRS Reports. However, due to the haphazard way that CRS reports are made public, not even Open CRS has access to all the reports. But the Open CRS project currently has more than 13,000 reports and is constantly adding more.

A good example of the reports available through Open CRS is the February 14, 2008 paper titled “Estate Tax Legislation in the 110th Congress.” This 26 page report summarizes the various bills related to the estate tax and other information such as Treasury Department Revenue Loss Estimates and Special Treatment for Family Owned Businesses.

Encourage your representative to make CRS reports available to the public but in the meantime support Open CRS.

- Eva Lang


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