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CRS Reports: What They Are & How to Use Them in Your Government Affairs Role

by Lydia Stowe, FiscalNote

Congressional Research Service reports are written to provide information to Congress on important issues. Read all you need to know about CRS reports and how government affairs professionals can leverage them.

How to use CRS reports

Government affairs professionals need to stay updated on the latest policies related to their industry and the supporting research Congress uses to make decisions. Fear of missing something important related to your job causes anxiety for 45 percent of government relations professionals, according to our 2022 State of Government Affairs report. To mitigate this stress and ensure you never miss a beat, it’s important to have a well-equipped toolbox. 

The Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports are one of the tools you can use to build your strategy. CRS reports are an effective way to be alerted of policies and research that are pertinent to your job, all from an objective and nonpartisan source.

What is the Congressional Research Service?

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The CRS is a federal legislative branch agency located within the Library of Congress that works for the United States Congress and provides policy and legal analysis to committees and members of the House and Senate. CRS has been a valued and respected resource on Capitol Hill for more than a century, according to the Library of Congress. 

“Following our core values of objectivity and nonpartisanship, CRS doesn’t take sides in policy debates and won’t make policy recommendations for Congress in the reports,” said Stephen Dagadakis, head of the Congressional Programs and Communications Office at Congressional Research Service. “We outline options and considerations for Congress and assess their impacts, and Congress makes the political decisions about the issues.”

The CRS has approximately 600 employees, including lawyers, economists, reference librarians, and scientists. These experts assist at every stage of the legislative process, approaching complex topics from a variety of perspectives and examining all sides of an issue with research and analysis. CRS staff members present current policies and the impact of proposed alternatives. CRS services can include reports on major policy issues, confidential memos and briefings, seminars and workshops, and expert congressional testimony. 

What is a CRS Report?

CRS reports are written collaboratively by Congressional Research Service employees, including research analysts, attorneys, and information professionals. They cover the full range of topics that are of interest to Congress, including policy issues such as defense, appropriations, health, education, environmental policy, foreign affairs, and information about the legislative and budget process. If there is increased interest in a particular topic or a perennial issue, a CRS report will most likely be written on that subject. 

The CRS serves to provide Congress with research and analysis on relevant issues. By law, CRS staff are only available to assist Congress members, committees, and staff and respond to their congressional requests. While the CRS works exclusively for Congress, thousands of CRS reports are available to the public and provide access to products produced by the CRS for the U.S. Congress. 

“Even though the reports are made available to the public, they’re explicitly written for a Congressional audience,” Dagadakis said. “We distill down and analyze information that’s relevant to help best inform Congress.”

These reports are living documents that are often updated and revised, sometimes dozens of times as issues emerge or develop. In 2021, the service published 1,325 new CRS reports and made 2,551 updates to previous reports and other products. There are currently more than 10,000 reports available in the database.

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Types of CRS Reports

There are resources, testimonies, and even infographics and tables available within the CRS report database. Here are some of the main types of CRS reports that you may find yourself using on a regular basis.

Reports

Reports are the best-known CRS product. These traditional reports range in length from a few pages to well over 100 and cover a full range of policy topics that Congress may face, as well as other issues of interest to Congress like legal issues, oversight, and the legislative and budget process. Reports typically contain a one-page summary at the beginning that consolidates the key information, which can be helpful as you determine whether a report is helpful to you. 

Blog-Style Posts

Blog-style posts address emerging or timely issues and are shorter than traditional reports. 

Legal Sidebar

Legal sidebar CRS reports are focused on legal issues, such as Supreme Court cases of interest to Congress. They summarize the findings and potential considerations of particular legal matters. They can be identified in the CRS database because they begin with “LSB” followed by a number.

Appropriations Status Tables

The appropriations status table is the most commonly used product the CRS offers. It lists all appropriations bills each year, the status of where the bill is and the process, and links to relevant legislative material such as committee reports, bill language, and continuing resolutions. This is a one-stop-shop to track down legislative information on appropriations bills.

In Focus

“In focus” issue briefs are a great way to get up to speed on a particular topic. You can spot them in the CRS database by identifying reports that begin with “IF” followed by a number. 

When congressional staff read it, they know it’s not just a claim by an interest group, there are facts substantiating it.

Joshua Habursky, Head of Government Affairs
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How Can CRS Reports be Accessed?

The CRS reports database can be filtered by date, content type, author, and topic to find the information relevant to your organization. For easier access to CRS reports and to streamline your government affairs strategy, a tool like CQ Federal is helpful to quickly search past reports and stay up-to-date on new ones. With every CRS report since 1993, CQ Federal serves as the most comprehensive source of searchable and alertable information with a digital CRS archive of almost 50,000 unique reports dating back to the 95th Congress. 

Are CRS Reports Copyright Protected?

No, CRS reports are not subject to copyright protection. The reports are works of the United States government and are therefore not copyright protected in the U.S. The reports can be reproduced and distributed in their entirety without permission from the CRS. 

However, the CRS website notes that the individual reports may contain copyrighted images or material from a third party. In this case, you may need to obtain permission from the copyright holder to copy the material.

How to Use CRS Reports in Your Government Affairs Role

Government affairs professionals can access and use these reports to better understand policy and current events. They are a wealth of information, with in-depth research and analysis available at no cost, so learning how to use them can provide a huge advantage to your organization and in your role. One way to use them is as a credible source to cite in a report you are creating. 

That’s a backchannel way, if you have a champion in Congress, to get some excellent research when you don’t have the funding to do it.

Joshua Habursky, Head of Government Affairs
Premium Cigar Association (PCA)

“Any time I’m putting together a memo and I have a lot of anecdotal evidence, but not things that have been substantiated by an outside source, I look at the CRS database,” said Joshua Habursky, head of government affairs at Premium Cigar Association. CRS reports have a good reputation and are seen as an objective source, so they can add credibility to your reports. 

You can also use CRS reports to educate members or to raise the awareness of congressional offices. Recently, Habursky found a valuable report about tax rates and their effects, which he sent out via email to every congressional office. “I was able to take their report, make our own communication that linked to the report, and add our commentary to it,” Habursky said. “When congressional staff read it, they know it’s not just a claim by an interest group, there are facts substantiating it.” 

While CRS reports are created for members of Congress, their benefit extends well beyond. “The reports are a clearinghouse of information that is leveraged and utilized just as much on Capitol Hill as off it,” Habursky said.

While the CRS does not create reports for the general public, Habursky has leveraged the CRS by asking a member of Congress to request they do a report on something of interest to his organization. From a K Street perspective, “that’s a backchannel way, if you have a champion in Congress, to get some excellent research when you don’t have the funding to do it,” he said. “Small associations can really leverage the Congressional Research Service through this generally accepted practice.” 

Find and Analyze CRS Reports with CQ & FiscalNote

Government affairs professionals spend on average 10 hours per week finding and tracking relevant policy. FiscalNote and CQ’s comprehensive data allows you to quickly monitor and track legislation and regulation, including providing easy access to CRS reports. Congressional legislative information is available at your fingertips, including bills, committees, hearings, CRS reports, voting records, and more. With custom alerts, you’ll get a heads up on all the policy developments you care about as soon as something happens.

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