Poster Paper: Analyzing Congressional Research Service Reports from the 115th Congress: Identifying Sources Informing Federal Education Policy

Saturday, November 9, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Jennifer B. Ayscue1, Paul G. Rubin2 and Elizabeth Uzzell1, (1)North Carolina State University, (2)University of Utah

Created in 1914, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is a nonpartisan governmental agency that provides analysis of current and proposed legislation for Congress. Despite CRS’s role in the federal policymaking process (Dreyfus, 1976; Gude, 1985; Relyea, 2010; Weiss, 1989), their documents have historically been accessible only to Congressional offices. However, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018 mandated that CRS research reports become publicly available, offering an opportunity to examine documents Congress members use to inform their decision-making. The current study investigates the following question: What do the sources of information cited by CRS suggest about the body of research considered in the federal policy process?

Calls to improve research-informed policy underscore the gap between policy actors and the academic community (Galey, 2015; Hillman, et al., 2015). To bridge this divide, the process of “knowledge brokering” occurs to translate information between policymakers and academics (Daly et al., 2014; Frost et al., 2012; Lomas, 2007). Serving as knowledge brokers, intermediary organizations translate information between researchers and policymakers (Cooper & Shewchuk, 2015; Dobbins, et al., 2009; Lubienski, et al., 2011) and are considered trustworthy due to their familiarity with the context of each community (Nutley et al., 2007). Intermediary organizations have become increasingly influential in education policy discussions at the local (DeBray et al., 2014; Scott, et al., 2015) and state levels (Ness & Gándara, 2014; Tandberg & Hillman, 2014). However, research is limited at the federal level. This study expands on the literature of intermediary organizations by examining the reports produced by CRS, an independent, nonpartisan knowledge broker in the federal policymaking process.

This study uses document analysis (Bowen, 2009) to analyze 55 reports indexed by CRS as related to education that were published during the 115th U.S. Congress. A total of 14 unique authors generated these reports, which comprise 1,688 pages. Based on the content of each report, we identify three central focuses for the reports—legislation, appropriations, and general information. We use inductive coding to categorize the type of citation. We analyze the mean number of citations per page and per report as well as the relationships between the focus of the report and the type/number of citations.

Preliminary analysis of 22 reports suggests that on average, there are 2.44 citations per page and 75.5 citations per report. The most frequently cited types of information were governmental agency reports (28.78%) and current legislation (28.24%). Court cases (13.85%) and other CRS reports (13.18%) were also frequently cited. Although academic articles (4.03%) and think tank reports (1.75%) were referenced, the most common sources of information stem from the government itself. From these preliminary findings, CRS reports may serve primarily as an echo chamber of perspectives from within the government rather than providing nuanced interpretations of external information sources that would be expected from previous research. After finalizing the coding for the remaining 33 reports, we will conduct more detailed analyses described above to consider further the validity of this early conclusion.