What in the world is she talking about, you ask? What is “CRS” and who cares about their reports? Please do read on…..
Say you want to learn more about the role of the federal government in STEM education, type “STEM education” into the search field and up come reports on this topic. You will even see one by Boris Granovskiy—the 2014-15 AMS-sponsored Congressional Fellow who moved directly from his fellowship into his current position at CRS.
Might be me, but I love these reports and spend many hours reading them (ok, so maybe this really is just me). Reports can be downright fascinating to read, such as this one on women in Congress. They can be useful in teaching, such as this one about the hurricanes that hit the US in 2017 (of course, it depends what you are teaching but you might find yourself talking about modeling hurricanes or predicting storms in a math class). Say you want to know the average age of current Members of Congress; look no further than the report on members of the 115th Congress! Answer: 58 years old in the House, 62 in the Senate. Or, say you are interested in finding out about current legislative activity around unauthorized children arriving in the U.S.; you can find that too.
When I was the AMS-sponsored Congressional Fellow (2013-2104), I learned what a truly amazing resource the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is for Congressional members and their staff. I could call in the morning, talk to someone immediately, discuss the issue I needed information on, and have a report within 48 hours (and often by the end of the business day). Their reports are concise, well researched and non-partisan. (All this is not to imply that the CRS is the only place Congressional members get good information; they typically have very knowledgeable staff members, well-versed in whatever subject area they work on for their boss—agriculture, education, transportation, government oversight, etc.).
I typically requested help from the CRS when I was preparing my Senator for a hearing on, say, the Higher Education Act (first signed into law in 1965 and containing a lot of things you might/should care about if you work in academia). It has been updated since (most recently in 2008), and is (over-)due for another update. Indeed, both House and Senate have introduced their own new versions. If I wanted to read about the House version, I might well turn to read the CRS report on this so-called PROSPER Act.
Oh, and have I mentioned that the staff members talk to you on the phone and will come meet you to discuss the topic you are requesting information about? This was very useful–sometimes you don’t quite know what the right questions are (at least, I didn’t). Reports are prepared to assist Members of Congress and congressional committee staff “at every stage of the legislative process—from the early considerations that precede bill drafting, through committee hearings and floor debate, to the oversight of enacted laws and various agency activities.”
The CRS is part of the Library of Congress and serves at the pleasure of Congress. President Woodrow Wilson signed the law establishing the agency in 1914. No one outside of Congress can request a report. In the past, once you had one of these reports, however, you could share it with whomever you wanted, including posting on websites. For example, the Federation of American Scientists (fas.org) used to distribute select reports, many of which can still be found at that website.
While it remains the case that the CRS serves only Congress, the reports are now publicly available (caveat: some of the reports are confidential and remain off-limits). This change was mandated by the Consolidated Appropriations Act, which was signed into law on March 23, 2018. This law required that reports become available by September 18, 2018. You can find reports at the CRS website.
Note that the upload process is manual, and being done in reverse chronological order. So right now, you are just seeing the most recently released or updated reports. As the rollout process progresses, more and more active reports will be available. Just one example of what is lacking is that one of my very favorite reports on the Higher Education Act is not accessible through this search process yet.
You can find reports at the CRS website.