WASHINGTON - ICYMI, the Subcommittee on Modernization held its first legislative Hearing titled, "Legislative Proposals to Support Modernizing the Congressional Research Service and the Use of Federal Data.” 

Witnesses included: 

  • Robert Newlen, CRS Interim Director
  • Elise J. Bean, Carl Levin Center for Oversight and Democracy at Wayne State University Law School
  • Dr. Matthew Glassman, Senior Fellow, Government Affairs Institute at Georgetown University
  • Dr. Nicholas Hart, President & CEO, Data Foundation

In case you missed it, here are the top takeaways:

1. Getting Rid of Print CONAN Requirement Enhances Efficiency

Chairwoman Stephanie Bice (OK-05): "Modernizing how CRS produces and provides access to the Constitution Annotated is also consistent with the goal of updating how the agency serves Congress. CONAN, as this massive tome is known, has been available online since 2019.  

"The digital version is regularly updated and has gotten millions of views since its inception.  

"Meanwhile, producing this hardbound version is costly.  According to the most recent estimates available from CRS and GPO, the 2012 hardbound CONAN cost taxpayers approximately $1 million to produce.   

"We’re waiting on estimates for the 2022 version, but expect they’ll be nearly the same. 

"Getting rid of the print requirement enhances efficiency and is an easy cost saving measure."    
Click the image or here to view Chairwoman Bice's opening statement. 

2. Full Committee Chairman Steil asks how CRS will Use and Present Data

Chairman Bryan Steil (WI-01):  "We talked a lot about getting the data and data access to you. This is the second side of that, I think that Ranking Member Kilmer was referencing is how do we utilize the data and how we present it? Can you walk through just a little about how CRS is positioned to take advantage of the data, if it arrives? I'm thinking about data dashboards, presentation aspects, training, visualization, other aspects that you've spent time on, or other tools that you may need in that regard."

Mr. Robert Newlen: "Absolutely, well one of the studies that gave us some good direction was a Rand study done several years ago and it suggested that we start looking at newer, analytic methods which we are doing, and also looking at Cloud-based solutions, which, of course, are very expensive right now. But that was one of the recommendations.

"The other one was to apply newer data science methods and we have begun that process we have some of the, I would say, good staff that know how to manage that data. But we also have a request outstanding at the moment for about 3 million to continue that effort so we have the ability to manage big data."

Click the image or here to view Chairman Steil's Q&A. 
3. Rep. Carey Seeks Answer on what Congress is Legally Entitled to Claim from the Executive Branch

Representative Mike Carey (OH-15): "With your decades of experience and oversight managing, can you lay out for us in straightforward terms what Congress is legally entitled to claim from the Executive Branch? And I know you worked on this with the agencies and departments. 

Ms. Elise Bean: "The Supreme Court has been very clear that as long as Congress has a legislative purpose, Congress has broad authority to obtain information. The Supreme Court first affirmed Congress's authority to conduct oversight of the Executive Branch nearly 100 years ago in McGrain v. Daugherty, and reaffirmed that authority in 2020 in the Mazars case. 

"And here's some direct quotes from the Supreme Court in Mazars: 

"'Congressional power to obtain information is broad and indispensable.'

"'It is the proper duty of a representative body to look diligently into every affair of government.'

"'Unless Congress have and use every means of acquainting itself with the acts and disposition of the administrative agents of the government, the country must be helpless to learn how it is being served.'

"So the Supreme Court couldn't have been more clear about Congress's right to obtain information for a legislative purpose from the Executive Branch, and that includes when Congress is enacting legislation, overseeing the Executive Branch, and it includes information requests from its support agencies, since the only reason they're asking is to assist Congress." 
Click the image or here to view Congressman Carey's full Q&A. 
4. Chairwoman Bice Questions Whether Data Used in Policy Debates can be Free of Bias

Chairwoman Stephanie Bice (OK-05): "Dr. Hart, your testimony calls for depoliticized discussion of how Congress can use evidence to better function as an institution using the knowledge being gained. 

"Certainly that is a very admirable goal. But how do you get around the fact that data can be used to promote sort of partisan aims? And how can we be certain that the data being presented isn't biased, especially when both sides point to data in these policy debates?"

Dr. Nicholas Hart: "So a major component of this is thinking about how we transparently share the information and evidence that we're using. And this is actually one of the pillars of the Evidence Commission, the Ryan/Murray Commission, where we talked about the evidence-based policymaking transparency was one of the five pillars.

"And in the Executive Branch, this is something that we have encouraged, promoted, as we are talking about sharing more information from the American public. It is one of the reasons that we promote openness of data, and it is not to say that we will never have different views about what data means and what data analysis means, but the more that we are able to share and have an open, honest, dialogue about the information that is in front of us, the more we can have a productive discussion about what problems are really there and how to solve them." 
Click the image or here to view Chairwoman Bice's Q&A.