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When Congress needs an answer to a complex question, they often turn to an agency known as the Congressional Research Service to do some digging. But even though the legislators are elected by the people, and the taxpayers pay for the fact-finding missions, the reports produced are not readily available to the public.

The newly-passed House of Representatives appropriations bill changes that, opening up the work of the CRS to the public.

“It’s more important now than ever that Americans have access to clear-cut, accurate information on the issues being debated in the halls of Congress,” said Chairman Kevin Yoder (R-KS), sponsor of the bill. “CRS reports are a great nonpartisan resource put together at the taxpayers’ expense. It’s the fair and right thing to do to let the public have access to them.”

Most of the CRS reports are gradually released and end up in the public domain. But there is no centrally-located repository for them.

Instead, they are collected by private businesses, who often sell access to them before they end up on various Internet sites.

The topics span nearly every question imaginable: from environmental and financial issues, to agricultural problems, as well as national security and social policy queries.

The non-confidential reports will be made available to the public, though the specifics of that availability remain to be determined.

Some sites like EveryCRSreport.com aim to make every document openly accessible. That site in particular has nearly 9,000 of the latest documents online for free. One of the latest is the latest update of the funding and mission of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and gives a cut-and-dry narrative of its funding and accomplishments from Obama Era through the Trump Administration transition so far.

The change toward transparency was a debate in Congress for years. Last year, a bipartisan bill failed to do so. But the House approved the entire FY 2018 bill Thursday, with the transparency language included.

This year’s legislative push included a bipartisan groups of 40 non-profit groups and 25 former employees of the CRS, according to the R Street Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think-tank. Kevin Kosar, the vice president for policy at R Street, previously worked 11 years at CRS, he said in a statement.

“This change is way overdue,” said Kosar. “I am very glad Congress has moved end the inequitable access to these nonpartisan reports. The public has a right to read them, and CRS analysts need to be free from the gotcha-trap that current policy puts them in.”

In addition to the CRS-report transparency changes, the bill continues some long-standing fiscal policy. House spending remains 12 percent lower than 2010 – and the bill also prevents pay increases for members of Congress for the eighth year in a row, according to Yoder.

“We are leading by example by tightening our belts and spending taxpayer dollars wisely, and we are continuing the policy of preventing any pay increases for members of Congress,” said the Kansas Congressman, in a statement.

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