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A major leak of government secrets – read all about it!

9 February 2009

Big news!  What revelations lie in the reports of the Congressional Research Service (CRS)?  We can now learn the answer according to “CRS Reports Leaked“, posted at Moon Over Alabama, 8 Febuary 2009 (hat tip to Seneca):

The U.S. Congressional Research Service provides reports at the request of lawmakers on about every issues Congress decides on.

The Federation of American Scientists has pressed to get these released as they are paid for with $100 million tax dollars per year and are thought to be of decent quality. At least they tell what congress might think about an issue. But except for a few that got leaked to Open CRS most of them so far were kept secret.

Today Wikileak published copies of 6,731 CRS reports spanning over several years and current up to this month.

If you want to know what the CRS teaches lawmakers about:

and a thousand other issues it is now all out there for everyone to read and assess.  The reports by date list is good starting point.

Update:  an influx of traffic has overloaded Wikileak’s servers.

Perhaps the most important finding from these will be the narrowness of the viewpoints Congress receives, however technically accurate.   This masks the uncertainty about our data and theories, giving Congress an unjustified confidence in its policies.

Here is the Wikipedia entry about the CRS.  Here is their website.

Afterword

If you are new to this site, please glance at the archives below. You may find answers to your questions in these.

Please share your comments by posting below. Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post. Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar.  Of esp interest these days:

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19 Comments leave one →
  1. 9 February 2009 5:10 am

    Only a $100 million? What’s the big deal? <– sarcasm.

    We should know the information Congress is using to make decisions, as long as it is not a matter of national security. That’s my current opinion based on not having read any of these reports. I reserve the right to change my mind.

    Like

  2. Gregory Koster permalink
    9 February 2009 7:06 am

    FM: “Perhaps the most important finding from these will be the narrowness of the viewpoints Congress receives, however technically accurate. This masks the uncertainty about our data and theories, giving Congress an unjustified confidence in its policies.”

    Did you have a specific report or group of reports in mind when you wrote this? This comment gives the impression that you think the entire CRS is poor. Do you think so? If so, why? Please expand on this, preferably in a new post.

    I think it is fair to say that all Congressionals could easily be buried in information, and prize concision. Remember Churchill in World War II insisted that all policy papers submitted to him be on one sheet of paper. He wasn’t completely successful in this effort, and did pay a price sometimes for sketchiness when depth was needed. But the problem with modern communications surely is not lack of information. It’s tough to be concise and still get everything essential in a paper.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Nope. The public ones are interesting and informative. We shall see what the secret ones say. Whatever the result, this is a step forward for America, IMO.

    Like

  3. Al Maviva permalink
    9 February 2009 12:18 pm

    No joke they don’t get much information.

    In the parallel GAO process – Government Accountability Office – Congress uses audits and alleged factfinding inquiries to micromanage and browbeat agencies into carrying out very specific agenda items. When a Member requests information via GAO audit, it is very often couched not as an inquiry, but as a directive to prove a point. Agency employees are generally left trying to inform the investigators, flooding them with good facts, while puzzling over the investigators’ apparent reluctance to write the actual facts into congressional reports. Newsflash bureaucrats: they don’t want the facts you’ve observed; they want the facts that further their political agenda. Those, they’ll take.

    Congress gets bad information because it looks for bad information to support crummy laws and pork giveaways. Why we would expect CRS to be any different from GAO is beyond me.

    Like

  4. seneca permalink
    9 February 2009 4:37 pm

    FM Note: I recommend reading this comment.

    This treasure trove of 6700 CRS reports should be put aside like War and Peace or the Iliad — something to read on a rainy day. On the other hand, chances are good it may quickly be seized back from the Internet and hidden. We can then demand that it be released, under Obama’s newly envigorated Freedom of Information Act.

    We already know that Congress passes major legislation (the Patriot Act, the revised TARP) without reading it. They seem to have a vast incuriosity about complex subjects.

    We also suspect that special interests are the originators of much new legislation, for which lobbyists provide much of the detailed writing, and in cases of major policy initiatives, think tanks have already provided the basic language and conceptual frameworks.

    Like

  5. 9 February 2009 6:05 pm

    What else is new? We are in a spiral downward and we wont have the Hudson to feather our fall.

    Like

  6. 9 February 2009 7:03 pm

    That really is frightening. Micromanagement of public opinion.

    Like

  7. smellytourist permalink
    9 February 2009 7:20 pm

    Fascinating. Wonder if they have any from the year after 9/11?

    Like

  8. Jesse permalink
    9 February 2009 7:41 pm

    The stats from the income inequality report aren’t that surprising to most (rising income inequality since the seventies or so), but it can be compared/correlated with voting habits. Classically, areas of great economic inequality tend to be more democratic. Conservatives, of course, will try to connect economic inequality and democratic tendencies, ignoring that democratic voting habits are the effect and not the cause of such inequality. If you do a google search for “inequality voting democratic” the first search result, “Political Polarization and Income Inequality,” is an excellent paper posted by Princeton University which fleshes out the stats of the leaked report in more meaningful detail. The paper uses many of the same indexical measures (the “Gini index”) of income inequality to articulate its views on inequality and ideological polarization. For anyone interested…

    Like

  9. eseeders permalink
    9 February 2009 7:51 pm

    Dude give me a break, CRS reports are publicly accessible i’ve used a number of them during my college career for research projects and even if there are some that aren’t, you could use the freedom of information act to get hold of them. Additionally, i agree with the poster at #4 what exactly are you trying to get at here? There are good CRS reports and then there are bad CRS reports, it happens. The CRS is simply designed to assist the congress in getting information regarding issues they are attempting to address nothing more.
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    Fabuis Maximus replies: Based on the 7300 comments posted to this site, I have found that most comments opening with “Dude,” are either factually wrong, illogical, or both. This is just wrong.

    (1) “CRS reports are publicly accessible ”

    Nope, only some are. From Wikipedia:

    While CRS products are already available electronically to “members of Congress, Congressional committees, and CRS sister agencies (e.g. GAO)” through the internal CRS Web system, there is no public access.

    Many but not all CRS reports can be obtained through specialized publishers such as Penny Hill Press, or from web archives such as OpenCRS, which relies on individual submissions to maintain its collection. … However, as there is no accurate public list or catalog of CRS publications, all unreleased reports are effectively secret.

    There have been numerous attempts to pass legislation requiring the CRS to make its products available on a public web site, including the introduction of bills in 1998, 1999, 2001, and 2003. All have so far failed to pass.

    (2) “you could use the freedom of information act to get hold of them.”

    Congress and the Judiciary are exempt from the FOIA. The FOIA covers “agencies” defined in 555(f)(1) as follows:

    “agency” as defined in section 551(1) of this title includes any executive department, military department, Government corporation, Government controlled corporation, or other establishment in the executive branch of the Government (including the Executive Office of the President), or any independent regulatory agency;

    (3) “what exactly are you trying to get at here?”

    We are trying to get at information gathered by the government and used as a basis for public policy. That is typically considered important by both people interested in understanding government policy and historians.

    Like

  10. Al Maviva permalink
    9 February 2009 7:57 pm

    Comment #6: We can then demand that it be released, under Obama’s newly envigorated Freedom of Information Act.

    No you can’t Seneca. Congressional Research Service is an arm of Congress. They are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, just as they are exempt from anti-discrimination laws.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Sad but true. note that putting Congress under the anti-discrimination laws was part of the Republican’s Contract with America. Never implemented, of course.

    Like

  11. spcastles permalink
    9 February 2009 8:02 pm

    Pfft…if there’s anything we learned in the years since 9/11, it’s that our congress will cheerfully endanger our citizens for a few dollars. If I were in the military and charged with giving them information, I would hide it to the best of my ability, also.

    Like

  12. eseeders permalink
    9 February 2009 8:19 pm

    See Congressional Research Service Reports, Hosted by University of Texas Libraries. there ya go :)
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    Fabius Maximus replies: You should first read the site before posting a comment. It says “Please note that this site does not contain a complete collection of CRS reports.”

    Like

  13. 10 February 2009 5:47 am

    eff.org, aclu.org and bordc.org have had this for quite some time. Great blog, It’s laways wonderful to see someone elae care about what thsi Nation has lost. we are now known as that USA that place that TORTURES.
    Peace, Rhoda Veteran for Peace

    Like

  14. Erasmus permalink
    11 February 2009 9:10 pm

    Good news:

    World War I 1917-1921 1919
    Current Year $ 20 billion 13.6% 14.1%
    Constant FY2008 $ 253 billion

    World War II 1941-1945 1945
    Current Year $ 296 billion 35.8% 37.5%
    Constant FY2008 $ 4,114 billion

    Total Post-9/11 — Iraq,
    Afghanistan/GWOT, ONE /d/ 2001-Present 2008
    Current Year $ 809 billion 1.2% 4.2%
    Constant FY2008 $ 859 billion

    This from one of the reports (not a very significant one since the date is around elsewhere). The % numbers are of GDP at the time. Total post 9/11 expenditure, for example, including beefed up Homeland Security come to average of 1.2% of GDP with peak of 4.2%.

    At least, that’s what this report says!

    http://wikileaks.org/wiki/CRS:_Costs_of_Major_U.S._Wars%2C_July_24%2C_2008

    Like

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