Many researchers may be unfamiliar with one of the most useful types of U.S. government documents, the reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for members of Congress on topics relevant to current political issues. CRS defines its mission as serving Congress, rather than the general public. Because there is no comprehensive source providing public access to all CRS reports, identifying reports and locating them is frequently not as easy as running a Google search.
CRS reports can support legal research in several ways. Reports generally identify and discuss primary legal documents, particularly legislation, presidential executive orders and agency regulations that pertain to a topic. They provide historical, statistical and other information that provides context to current issues. And CRS Reports often address varying policy proposals and viewpoints. For law students, CRS reports could be a great resource to help select a Note topic, efficiently conduct background research or seek leads to further sources of information.
A sampling of recent CRS reports suggests the almost unlimited range of topics addressed: the history and recent increases of the debt limit, NSA surveillance leaks, sanctions against Iran, legal issues related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), U.S.-China Trade Issues, and campaign finance policy.
One subscription database that can be helpful is ProQuest Legislative Insight. During a session, select the “Guided search” options and click the box to search “CRS and Misc. Publications.” A flexible advanced search feature allows searching by title keywords, full text, etc.
Other effective means of locating CRS reports include:
- Open CRS is a project that seeks to make as many CRS reports as possible available by pointing to reports that have already been released to the public
- U.S. Department of State provides access to a collection of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs, with a focus on foreign relations and national security (arranged by date, region and topic)
- Federation of American Scientists (FAS) arranges CRS Reports by topic
- University of North Texas has created a search engine to locate CRS Reports by keywords