Why is it so hard to find a copy of this Congressional report?
March 7, 2011 10:01 PM   Subscribe

16 years ago, a Congressional Task Force was set up to study a major policy issue. Six months later, its report led to far-reaching legislative changes. Despite extensive news coverage from creation to completion, the report itself is virtually inaccessible.

In December 1994, soon-to-be Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich created a congressional task force to study the question of immigration reform, and appointed California Republican Elton Gallegly as its head. As explained on his biographical page, in June 1995 the Task Force published "a 200-plus page report with more than 80 specific recommendations [most of which] became law the following year." As Rep. Gallegly was just recently appointed chair of the House subcommittee on Immigration Policy, a review of this historical document seemed in order.

Warning: the surgeon-general has determined that links in this paragraph present a severe risk of information overload, and sudden loss of hair, internet connection, or sanity. For those who don't know, the law in question was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, a 750-page omnibus bill (outline; epic pdf; short summary; longer summary) which massively reshaped immigration law. It was introduced by Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas in April 1995, and became law in September 1996. Thousands of law review articles and legal opinions later, it remains highly contentious - not least because of the sheer theoretical complexity involved.

And that was where I ran into a problem.

In general, I can find any public government document within a few minutes, so I thought this report would be no different - Rep. Gallegly proudly refers to it in every version of his bio, so I was only surprised he didn't have a direct link to it. But after hours of searching - no dice. I tried GPO.gov, the new Federal Digital System, pored over the Congressional serial set of documents and reports (although knowing that 'document' and 'report' have technical meanings which don't include this report, because a Task Force isn't a formally defined entity like a Congressional committee). I looked to a wide variety of outside resources, no luck there either. Just as I was about to give up, I found this; a concurrent resolution authorizing the printing of the Task Force Report, at least up to a maximum of 2,000 or $12,000 in printing expenses, whichever was lower. But the resolution apparently died in the Oversight committee. I began to think that perhaps, not being an official Congressional document, it had never been printed at all. Although I found nothing to suggest it had been classified, I wondered if an oversight investigation into whether INS officials had obstructed the work of the Task Force, or a subsequent related lawsuit meant that publication had never taken place.

But it had.

I found it by searching on Newt Gingrich's name in the title, of all things. According to WorldCat, the report does exist, in book form, in just two libraries in the United States: the US Customs & Immigration Service historical library (2 copies), and in the Law Library of Congress reading room (1 copy). I'm not headed for Washington DC anytime soon, and with only 3 copies known to exist in public libraries, I'm guessing that it's not likely to be available via normal interlibrary loan. I looked for all sorts of other possible classifications, on amazon, on ABEbooks, on eBay...not a bean (although I had no difficulty finding reprints of other Congressional documents using Rep. Gallegly's name). The only thing I can think of is to call the LoC and ask how much they'd charge to photocopy all 200 pages - if they even do that.

I'm...perplexed. In 20 years of using the Internet, I've never been stuck like this before. Is there some yawning gap in my knowledge? Am I looking in the completely wrong place for the federal depository system? Does this sort of thing happen all the time, and I had just got lucky in the past? Did it turn out to be written in crayon, or did I wander into the pages of a bad political thriller? For that matter I can't find anything much about the 'task force' outside of contemporary news reports, but it's quite possible it never even had a web page back in 1995. Congress.gov isn't exactly cutting edge now, never mind then.

But a large, recent, and historically significant work jointly authored by ~40 members of Congress - can anyone explain why it is so inaccessible?
posted by anigbrowl to Law & Government (9 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I can't answer your direct question about why it's so hard to find, but it seems like you are also still trying to figure out how to find it. My suggestion would be to call your local congressperson's office, then give them all the pertinent information that they would need to locate this document. I'd be surprised if you didn't have it within a week.
posted by buckaroo_benzai at 10:13 PM on March 7, 2011

I agree that your member of Congress may be able to help. But also, ask your local librarian. It's possible that they know of databases you haven't checked or that they can get you one of the known print copies via interlibrary loan. This is what librarians are for!
posted by decathecting at 10:15 PM on March 7, 2011

can anyone explain why it is so inaccessible?

I realize this may seem obvious, but have you tried calling Rep. Gallegly's office and asking them why? They might be able to explain.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 10:16 PM on March 7, 2011

Call the Senate Judiciary Committee. Ask to speak with the Committee's law librarian. I don't know who the current librarian is, but I knew the one who was there for 30 or so years and I knew his successor, and both of them would have been very friendly and happy to help you track down the report (but they might have had to call you back or be called back, since they also did a lot of stuff for hearings and were often busy with that sort of thing).

Important: Don't be crazy or angry or impatient with the people at the Judiciary Committee. They field a ton of crazy calls in addition to important calls from people like the Attorney General and the Director of the FBI, so their default position is going to be to initially assume that you're one of the crazies unless you are calm and can concisely convey what you're looking for. Be nice and patient and they'll be nice and patient back.
posted by The World Famous at 10:27 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I knew I had forgotten something! Certainly I have thought about calling the representative's office, and it's entirely possible that it just suffered from an acute lack of interest and he'd be thrilled that someone actually actually wants to read the report. But given the fact that there were two separate dissents to the report, and a contentious legislative battle ensued, I wonder if those events have any bearing.

I am planning to ask my friendly local librarians for help, as I spend a good bit of time in San Francisco's fine public law library - but I don't like to add to their burden if I don't need to, as they are already very busy and a little understaffed.
posted by anigbrowl at 10:28 PM on March 7, 2011

Sorry - I should probably explain why I'm recommending you contact the Senate instead of the House. In my experience, the law librarian of the Senate Judiciary Committee is one of the most well-connected and capable people on the Hill when it comes to tracking down reports and other documents related even tangentially to that committee's areas of authority. If they don't have it on hand, they will be able to refer you to the right people. There are a lot of brilliant librarians on Capitol Hill and one of the keys to navigating the intricacies of the U.S. Government is to treat those librarians well and seek out their help.
posted by The World Famous at 10:39 PM on March 7, 2011 [3 favorites]

I didn't realize the committees had their own law librarians, although it seems obvious now that I think about it. A great suggestion, thank you.
posted by anigbrowl at 11:08 PM on March 7, 2011

If you try that and it doesn't work, send me a MeFiMail and I'll make some calls to see if I can round up some help for you.
posted by The World Famous at 11:18 PM on March 7, 2011

This isn't surprising to me. It's in the libraries where you'd definitely expect to find it.

When I was working in D.C., I once had to trek over to the Judges' Library of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to find a copy of an obscure special prosecutor's report I wanted to see for a book project I was helping research.

The government creates an enormous amount of paper! You'd expect that some things would slip through the cracks entirely and this one actually hasn't.
posted by Jahaza at 2:17 PM on March 8, 2011

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