Mike’s Take: A vote of ‘no duh’ for members of Congress

WASHINGTON – As you would expect from its name, the Congressional Research Service (CRS) is one of the sharpest outfits in the U.S. Government. It is part of the Library of Congress.

The CRS staff is the think tank for the House and Senate. Its bipartisan staff researches issues and subjects — from national defense and homeland security to foreign policy and fossil fuels — for senators and representatives.

CRS reports are not directly available to the general public, but people can and often do request them through their member of Congress. They can also go online and download many of the reports. For members of the press, a CRS report is gold because all the hard work has been done and it has been fact-checked to a fault.

Despite its lofty mission, some CRS staffers, over the years, suspect that some requests from the staff of “Sen. X” or “Rep. Y” may have wound up as term papers for the offspring of lawmakers.

Some of the requests have been strange. In fact, at one point, an employee told me they had a list of the “10 Dumbest Questions” ever asked by a member of Congress. As you can imagine, the list was constantly changing as new members were elected or because some legislators-for-life lost some of their neurons.

A top CSR staffer let me look at the list one time. The rules were: I couldn’t write any of the questions down … I could only memorize them. Also, I couldn’t use any of the material for an extended period of time.

By the time I got to a place where I could commit them to paper, I had forgotten all but one.

But at least I remembered No. 1. If it has been knocked out of first place, I would be very surprised.

The “dumbest” question a member of Congress asked the CRS was:

“Where did Abraham Lincoln go after he left Washington?”

That is both simple and complex because you don’t go “duh” to a U.S. senator, especially if you work for him.

Obviously, the politician had an inquiring mind, yet his knowledge was rather limited. He was obviously not aware that Lincoln’s second term ended abruptly and badly one night at Ford’s Theater.

So how did the CRS staff handle it? Simple. They answered it. Up to a point:

They reported that on April 21, 1865, President Lincoln’s train left Washington for a 1,654 mile trip back to Springfield, Ill., where he had a home. The president, they told the legislator, stopped in Baltimore, Harrisburg, Philadelphia, Cleveland and various other cities. He arrived in Springfield on May 3.

Then they delivered the report. I don’t know if, or how or when they worked in the part about him being dead.

I told you they were smart.

She said she didn’t know what happened after that. Did the politician use it as the basis of a speech about Lincoln? And if it was for a term paper or thesis, what sort of grade did the kid get?

Sorry, that’s a stupid question. I hope!

Mike has spent the majority of his life inside the Beltway and has an interesting and humorous perspective that he will share every Wednesday. Mike has spent his career covering the federal government for the Washington Post and now for Federal News Radio.

Mike also writes a daily column for Federal News Radio.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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