Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Law Librarian Research Hack: Congressional Research Service Reports

Hack #11: Finding CRS Reports (the CRS might as well stand for “Crazy Reliable Sources”)

Within the Library of Congress lives an agency called the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The CRS exists for the sole purpose of providing members of Congress with "comprehensive and reliable legislative research and analysis that are timely, objective, authoritative and confidential." The idea is that in order to make informed decisions, legislators need accurate and unbiased information related to the topics on which they are proposing and passing laws.

CRS' research and analysis often comes in the form of reports, although the researchers also generate several other types of publications. The reports, which are on a wide range of topics, are well-researched and full of useful information. Given the thorough and nonpartisan nature of the CRS reports, they make an excellent starting point for any research project. Perhaps most helpfully, the reports are often heavily footnoted and can point you to other relevant sources (both primary and secondary). If you can find a CRS report (or really any CRS publication) on-point for your research topic, go out and buy a lottery ticket because it's your lucky day!

So where do you go to find these wonderfully useful resources? Well, there's a research guide for that! Specifically, the Gallagher Law Library's guide to Congressional Research Services Reports. The guide includes links to several resources, both free and UW licensed. Note that coverage and search capabilities for each resource varies.

For the most recent CRS materials, check out the relatively new Library of Congress repository available at This site was created following passage of the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018, which directed the Librarian of Congress to make all non-confidential written CRS products freely available to the public online. It includes new publications and an ever-growing backfile of older publications (I was able to locate CRS reports from as far back as October 2008). It also has the added bonus of not only including CRS reports, but other types of publications generated by the CRS (Legal Sidebars, In Focus, and written testimony from CRS experts called before Congress). 

The site is keyword searchable, but you can also just browse through the latest publications on the site by clicking the “SEARCH” button without entering any terms in the search bar. Doing so gives you an idea of the variety of topics that members of Congress are interested in. For example, fourteen new publications were uploaded to the site yesterday (June 18, 2019). A sampling of the titles of those items include:
If you are looking for older CRS reports, you'll want to search one of the other available sources. in particular is easy to use and has extensive holdings (nearly 15,000 publications) dating back to the 1970s.

If you want to know more about what CRS does, there is (appropriately) a 2011 CRS report titled The Congressional Research Service and the American Legislative Process.


Imagine that a supervisor would like you to do a research project regarding the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) during your summer internship. You know nothing about the FDCPA. See if you can locate a helpful publication from the CRS on this topic. How about net neutrality? Or navy ship naming? Try using both and Do you get the same results?

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