That environment changed abruptly in 2006. That year, Louis Fisher made comments to a reporter about the limitations of the whistle-blower protection law. It ought to have been a shrug-worthy comment, especially as the facts indicated that agencies defeated whistle-blowers in court almost every time. But someone in Congress took offense and complained. A media circus ensued, and the Internet lit up with anger. In the end, the agency transferred Fisher out of his job and into another agency within the Library of Congress. We had lost a valuable and productive colleague. Congressional requests that would have gone to him were routed to others at the CRS with much less experience.
The CRS’s blood was in the water, and more attacks came. Many of us were particularly shocked when Michigan Representative Pete Hoekstra, then chairman of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, rebuked the agency. A CRS expert had written a confidential memorandum on wiretapping, concluding that the executive branch probably had not given Congress as much notification as the law required. Hoekstra told the CRS that it had no business writing about the topic. It was remarkable: the CRS’s expert had warned Congress that the executive branch might be taking advantage of the legislature, and a powerful member of Congress had essentially replied, “Shut up.”
Agency management found this new operating environment both bewildering and a bit terrifying. The CRS gets all of its funding from Congress, and management had not forgotten that a decade earlier Congress, led by Newt Gingrich, had slashed the budget of the Government Accountability Office and abolished the Office of Technology Assessment. The CRS clamped down on its analysts talking to the media, and forbade the distribution of CRS reports to anyone who was not a member of Congress or an employee of the legislature.
The crackdown had a large effect on CRS researchers. The job I had signed up for permitted and even encouraged publishing for an audience beyond Congress. In the new environment, outside writing by CRS analysts on public affairs became rare. Outside publications would not get you promoted and became a needless peril. Endlessly we were warned by management to avoid writing anything that might be perceived by someone somewhere as partisan or biased. Increasingly, I devoted my freelancing to uncontroversial, non-governance subjects like the history of whiskey.