open crs!

For close observers of American government, Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are indispensable, but by longstanding policy CRS does not release its reports to the public. CRS’s client is Congress, the reasoning goes, and in order to offer independent and unbiased advice CRS speaks (more or less) only to Congress, a position it claims is rooted in the Constitution’s speech or debate clause. This argument might hold water if other Congressional agencies like GAO, which are also presumably hamstrung by this same clause, did not publicly release their reports. Continue reading

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the texan tribune

On the Media, an NPR show about, big shocker, the media, re-ran an episode about data last week. One article was about The Texas Tribune, a non-profit and non-partisan media organization, which compiles data from Texas. The data is posted on their site both in raw form and with analysis from The Texas Tribune. Lots of interesting information there.

For example, the annual salaries for Texas government workers can be found there now. Posting government employees salaries, as I ponder it more, however, seems akin to the Sweedish custom of posting everyone’s tax returns online. The practical effects of this policy are reviewed by an admittedly biased writer for The Telegraph in this article.

As they say though, sunshine makes the best disinfectant, so let there be light. (Is that even true? I will run that down next…)

the justice department’s new watchdog

Morning Edition’s sympathetic profile of Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz this morning is the type of story IG advocates envision. The battle between House Republicans  and Attorney General Eric Holder over access to documents related to the so-called “Fast and Furious” scandal look bad, the story begins:

But one man has already been sifting through secret emails about the operation known as Fast and Furious. He’s Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s new watchdog.

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holder’s house defectors

Last week’s unprecedented House floor vote holding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt looks first of all like escalating institutional conflict at the confluence of divided government and partisan polarization. My research on congressional investigations with David Parker, like our “Divided We Quarrel” (2009) –  offers this sort of reading. But the 21 Democrats who defected, 21 voting to hold Holder civil and 17 voting to hold Holder in criminal contempt highlights a different story about the power of interest groups like the National Rifle Association in Congress. Slate’s Explainer asks, “Why is the NRA so Powerful?”

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contempt!

I mentioned the other day that charges of contempt against Attorney General Eric Holder followed a familiar storyline – episodes during the Reagan and Clinton years were resolved without a vote on the House floor. In a depressing sign of the times, however, yesterday the House of Representatives added a new chapter to the recent history of partisan institutional conflict. Attorney General Holder became the first sitting cabinet member to be held in contempt of Congress. At the same time, this article in Fortune set of a lot of rethinking about the facts in the underlying case. In a perfect twist, Representative Issa’s principled stand on the House floor weren’t even the day’s top news, having been overshadowed by the announcement only a short distance away of the Supreme Court’s health care decision.