Magazine article Online


Magazine article Online


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Have you ever been asked to research any of the following topics: AIDS, digital TV, the Americans with Disabilities Act, Social Security, budget reconciliations, stem cell research, the PATRIOT Act, gasoline prices, political developments in other countries and how they affect U.S. interests, global climate change, IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts, not the Irish Republican Army), the Clean Air Act, dietary supplements, information technology in public schools, copyright, random drug testing of professional athletes, federal aid to libraries, or religious freedom? Researchers at the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which is part of the Library of Congress, have-and they've written reports on them.

If you're wondering what these topics have in common, it's public policy. The CRS info/], according to its Web site, "is where Members of Congress turn for the nonpartisan research, analysis, and information they need to make informed decisions on behalf of the American people. CRS employs a highly educated professional staff who are hired, retained, and promoted on the basis of merit and accomplishment."

When confronted by difficult, some might say intractable, public policy questions, Congress has an advantage-its own research department and reference librarians-in the form of the CRS. The structure of the CRS gives clues about its main research concerns. It is organized into the American Law; Domestic Social Policy; Foreign Affairs, Defense and Trade; Government and Finance; Knowledge Services Group; and Resources, Science and Industry interdisciplinary research divisions. Smaller subdivisions, which focus on specific areas of public policy, exist within these divisions.


With that in mind, let's look at some specifics. Here are some provocative questions for which CRS reports have answers.

How much have foreign direct investments in the United States declined since 2000?

"Foreign direct investment in the United States declined sharply after 2000 from a record $300 billion to about $100 billion in 2004" [James K. Jackson, specialist in international trade and finance, Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division, "Foreign Direct Investment in the United States: An Economic Analysis,"].

How can I track federal legislation and regulations at the local level?

"By using a variety of basic printed, online, and telephone sources, constituents can track federal legislation and regulations at the local level. Capsule descriptions of directories and other media sources are provided, as is a bibliography. Annotations for each source contain publisher contact information" [Carol D. Davis, information research specialist, Information Research Division, "Tracking Current Federal Legislation and Regulations: A Guide to Basic Sources"; updated Feb. 13, 2003,].

How can computer users be protected from "spyware" without creating unintended consequences?

"Internet privacy issues generally encompass two types of concerns: the collection of personally identifiable information (PII) by website operators by software such as 'spyware' and the monitoring of electronic mail and Web usage [Marcia S. Smith, specialist in aerospace and telecommunications policy, Resources, Science, and Industry Division, "Internet Privacy: Overview and Pending Legislation"; updated Dec. 22, 2004, www.ncse 3457902&CFTOKEN=56540669].

What is a filibuster and how does it affect day-to-day business in the United States Senate?

"Filibustering includes any use of dilatory or obstructive tactics to block a measure by preventing it from coming to a vote. The possibility of filibusters exists because Senate rules place few limits on Senators' rights and opportunities in the legislative process" [Richard S. Beth, specialist in the legislative process, Government and Finance Division, and Stanley Bach, senior specialist in the legislative process, Government and Finance Division, "Filibusters and Clôture in the Senate"; updated March 28, 2003. …

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