Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Congressional Research Service Restricts Distribution of CRS Data

In rather surprising news, the Congressional Research Service has prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval, reports Secrecy News, the blog of the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy. The Washington Post has a brief story as well. Thanks to Law Librarian Blog for the tip. Here's the Secrecy News report:
In what is being characterized by subordinates as an act of "managerial dementia," the Director of the Congressional Research Service this week prohibited all public distribution of CRS products without prior approval from senior agency officials.
"I have concluded that prior approval should now be required at the division or office level before products are distributed to members of the public," wrote CRS Director Daniel P. Mullohan in a memo to all CRS staff (pdf). "This policy is effective immediately."
While CRS has long refused (with Congressional concurrence) to make its electronic database of reports available to the public online, it has still been possible for members of the press, other researchers, and other government officials to request specific reports from the congressional support agency.
But now, "to avoid inconsistencies and to increase accountability, CRS policy requires prior approval at the division level before products can be disseminated to non-congressionals," Director Mullohan wrote.
The new policy demonstrates that "this is an organization in freefall," according to one CRS analyst. "We are now indeed working for Captain Queeg."
"We're all sort of shaking," another CRS staffer told Secrecy News. "I can't do my work." "There's not a day that goes by that I don't talk to someone in another agency, another organization, or someone else outside of Congress and we share information," the staffer said. "Now I can't do that?"
A copy of the March 20 memorandum from Director Mullohan, entitled "Distribution of CRS Products to Non-Congressionals," was obtained by Secrecy News.
None of the CRS personnel contacted by Secrecy News was able to explain exactly what prompted CRS Director Mulhollan to issue the policy memorandum this week.
While other parts of government strive to eliminate unnecessary obstacles to information sharing, the new CRS policy may be seen as an experiment in what happens when barriers to information sharing are arbitrarily increased. It probably won't be good.
With some frequency, CRS analysts contact FAS with requests for information or documents. (A recent CRS report on Chinese naval modernization (pdf) reprinted a large excerpt of an analysis of Chinese submarine patrols by FAS analyst Hans Kristensen.) We haven't been shy about requesting information or documents in return. And both sides seem to have benefitted.
"More important, Congress has benefitted," a staffer said. But now such working relationships may be jeopardized.

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