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The Congressional Research Service (CRS), known as Congress's think tank,[3] is a public policy research institute of the United States Congress. As a legislative branch agency within the Library of Congress, CRS works primarily and directly for Members of Congress, their Committees and staff on a confidential, nonpartisan basis.

Its staff of approximately 600 employees includes lawyers, economists, reference librarians, and social, natural, and physical scientists.[4] In fiscal year 2016, CRS was appropriated a budget of roughly $106.9 million by Congress.[1]

Despite numerous attempts to override a policy of "[limiting] dissemination to Members of Congress" from 1952 until 2018, "publication" was restricted; now "CRS makes non-confidential reports available on its website."[5]

CRS is joined by two major congressional support agencies. The Congressional Budget Office provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The Government Accountability Office assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. Collectively, the three agencies employ more than 4,000 people.[4]

As of mid-March 2019, CRS announced that it was adding "the back catalog of older CRS reports" and also introducing new publicly available reports, such as its "two-page executive level briefing documents."[6]

History

In 1914, Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson, both of Wisconsin, promoted the inclusion in the legislative, executive, and judicial appropriations act of a provision directing the establishment of a special reference unit within the Library of Congress.[7] Building upon a concept developed by the New York State Library in 1890, and the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library in 1901, they were motivated by Progressive era ideas about the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.[4] The move also reflected the expanding role of the librarian and the professionalization of the profession.[4] The new department was charged with responding to congressional requests for information.[4] The legislation authorized the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, to “employ competent persons to prepare such indexes, digests, and compilations of laws as may be required for Congress and other official use...” (The intent behind the creation of the agency can be derived from U.S. Senate, Committee on the Library, Legislative Drafting Bureau and Reference Division, 62d Cong., 3d sess., 1913, S. Rept.1271.)

Renamed the Legislative Reference Service and given a permanent authorization with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946,[8] it assisted Congress primarily by providing facts and publications and by transmitting research and analysis done largely by other government agencies, private organizations, and individual scholars.[4]

The Library of Congress, the home of CRS, had experimented during the 1940s with unrestricted publication Public Affairs Bulletins, which were produced by staff of the Legislative Reference Service, and devoted to various public policy issues. They were promoted by Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress, and, among other topics, addressed timely policy issues, such as American national defense. About 100 Public Affairs Bulletins were generated[9] before congressional appropriators ended their production in 1951.[10]

The renaming under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 reflected the service's changing missio

Its staff of approximately 600 employees includes lawyers, economists, reference librarians, and social, natural, and physical scientists.[4] In fiscal year 2016, CRS was appropriated a budget of roughly $106.9 million by Congress.[1]

Despite numerous attempts to override a policy of "[limiting] dissemination to Members of Congress" from 1952 until 2018, "publication" was restricted; now "CRS makes non-confidential reports available on its website."[5]

CRS is joined by two major congressional support agencies. The Congressional Budget Office provides Congress with budget-related information, reports on fiscal, budgetary, and programmatic issues, and analyses of budget policy options, costs, and effects. The Government Accountability Office assists Congress in reviewing and monitoring the activities of government by conducting independent audits, investigations, and evaluations of federal programs. Collectively, the three agencies employ more than 4,000 people.[4]

As of mid-March 2019, CRS announced that it was adding "the back catalog of older CRS reports" and also introducing new publicly available reports, such as its "two-page executive level briefing documents."[6]

In 1914, Senator Robert La Follette Sr. and Representative John M. Nelson, both of Wisconsin, promoted the inclusion in the legislative, executive, and judicial appropriations act of a provision directing the establishment of a special reference unit within the Library of Congress.[7] Building upon a concept developed by the New York State Library in 1890, and the Wisconsin Legislative Reference Library in 1901, they were motivated by Progressive era ideas about the importance of the acquisition of knowledge for an informed and independent legislature.[4] The move also reflected the expanding role of the librarian and the professionalization of the profession.[4] The new department was charged with responding to congressional requests for information.[4] The legislation authorized the Librarian of Congress, Herbert Putnam, to “employ competent persons to prepare such indexes, digests, and compilations of laws as may be required for Congress and other official use...” (The intent behind the creation of the agency can be derived from U.S. Senate, Committee on the Library, Legislative Drafting Bureau and Reference Division, 62d Cong., 3d sess., 1913, S. Rept.1271.)

Renamed the Legislative Reference Service and given a permanent authorization with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946,[8] it assisted Congress primarily by providing facts and publications and by transmitting research and analysis done largely by other government agencies, private organizations, and individual scholars.[4]

The Library of Congress, the home of CRS, had experimented during the 1940s with unrestricted publication Public Affairs Bulletins, which were produced by staff of the Legislative Reference Service, and devoted to various public policy issues. They were promoted by Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress, and, among other topics, addressed timely policy issues, such as American national defense. About 100 Public Affairs Bulletins were generated[9] before congressional appropriators ended their production in 1951.[10]

The renaming under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 reflected the service's changing mission:[4] This legislation directed CRS to devote more of its efforts and increased resources to doing research and analysis that assists Congress in direct support of the legislative process.[11]

When the Congressional Research Service Review was launched in 1980, it continued for a little more than a decade before congressional appropriators, once again, invoked fiscal closure. The Review, which was published ten times a year and available to the public by subscription, offered original analytical articles, summaries highlighting CRS research products, and other kinds of assistance to the congressional community.[9]

As inquiries increased from 400,000 questions per year in 1980 to 598,000 in 2000, CRS sought to prepare itself for future challenges, initiating an organizational realignment in 1999. The realignment, which has required extensive relocation of staff and the design of more efficient workstations, was intended to promote improved communication within CRS and increase the service's ability to focus on legislative deliberations of Congress by applying its multidisciplinary expertise to public policy issues in user-friendly, accessible formats when Congress needs assistance.[12]

Mission

CRS offers Congress research and analysis on all current and emerging issues of national policy.[4] CRS offers timely and confidential assistance to all Members and committees that request it, limited only by CRS's resources and the requirements for balance, nonpartisanship and accuracy.[4]

CRS makes no legislative or other policy recommendations to

Renamed the Legislative Reference Service and given a permanent authorization with the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1946,[8] it assisted Congress primarily by providing facts and publications and by transmitting research and analysis done largely by other government agencies, private organizations, and individual scholars.[4]

The Library of Congress, the home of CRS, had experimented during the 1940s with unrestricted publication Public Affairs Bulletins, which were produced by staff of the Legislative Reference Service, and devoted to various public policy issues. They were promoted by Archibald MacLeish, the Librarian of Congress, and, among other topics, addressed timely policy issues, such as American national defense. About 100 Public Affairs Bulletins were generated[9] before congressional appropriators ended their production in 1951.[10]

The renaming under the Legislative Reorganization Act of 1970 reflected the service's changing mission:[4] This legislation directed CRS to devote more of its efforts and increased resources to doing research and analysis that assists Congress in direct support of the legislative process.[11]

When the Congressional Research Service Review was launched in 1980, it continued for a little more than a decade before congressional appropriators, once again, invoked fiscal closure. The Review, which was published ten times a year and available to the public by subscription, offered original analytical articles, summaries highlighting CRS research products, and other kinds of assistance to the congressional community.[9]

As inquiries increased from 400,000 questions per year in 1980 to 598,000 in 2000, CRS sought to prepare itself for future challenges, initiating an organizational realignment in 1999. The realignment, which has required extensive relocation of staff and the design of more efficient workstations, was intended to promote improved communication within CRS and increase the service's ability to focus on legislative deliberations of Congress by applying its multidisciplinary expertise to public policy issues in user-friendly, accessible formats when Congress needs assistance.[12]

CRS offers Congress research and analysis on all current and emerging issues of national policy.[4] CRS offers timely and confidential assistance to all Members and committees that request it, limited only by CRS's resources and the requirements for balance, nonpartisanship and accuracy.[4]

CRS makes no legislative or other policy recommendations to Congress; its responsibility is to ensure that Members of the House and Senate have available the best possible information and analysis on which to base the policy decisions the American people have elected them to make.[4] In all its work, CRS analysts are governed by requirements for confidentiality, timeliness, accuracy, objectivity, balance, and nonpartisanship.

CRS services are not limited to those that relate directly to enacting new laws. For example, CRS attempts to assess emerging issues and developing problems so that it will be prepared to assist the Congress if and when it becomes necessary. Although it rarely conducts field research, CRS assists committees in other aspects of their study and oversight responsibilities. In addition, it offers numerous courses, including legal research seminars and institutes on the legislative process, the budget processes, and the work of district and state staff. At the beginning of each Congress, CRS also provides an orientation seminar for new Members.[4]

CRS does not conduct research on sitting Members or living former Members of Congress, unless granted specific permission by that Member or if that Member is nominated by the President for another office.[4]

CRS is now divided into six interdisciplinary research divisions, each of which is further divided into subject specialist sections. The six divisions are: American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; Knowledge Services; and Resources, Science and Industry.[13]

The six research divisions are supported in their work by five “infrastructure” offices: Finance and Administration, Information Management and Technology, Counselor to the Director, Congressional Information and Publishing, and Workforce Management and Development.[14]

Responses to Congressional requests take the form of reports, memoranda, customized briefings, seminars, videotaped presentations, information obtained from automated databases, and consultations in person and by telephone.[4]

CRS "supports the Members, committees, and leaders of the House and Senate at all stages of the legislative process":[4]

  • Ideas for legislation. A 2008 CRS report details how the service can assist legislators

    CRS "supports the Members, committees, and leaders of the House and Senate at all stages of the legislative process":[4]

    At the preliminary stage, members may 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. This assistance may be a summary and explanation of the scientific evidence on a technically complex matter, for example, or it may be a collection of newspaper and journal articles discussing an issue from different perspectives, or a comparative analysis of several explanations that have been offered to account for a generally recognized problem. CRS also identifies national and international experts with whom Members and staff may consult about whatever issues concern them and sponsors programs at which Members meet with experts to discuss issues of broad interest to Congress.[4]