The U.S. House of Representatives has passed by voice vote Congressman Cynthia Lummis' (R-Wyo) amendment to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), legislation passed in 1980 to reimburse individuals who otherwise could not afford to legally pursue claims against the government. Congress intended that EAJA operate as a social safety net program, with reimbursements available for the nation's veterans, seniors and small business. However, as scholarly journals from Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, GAO reports, and open court and tax records show, in recent years EAJA funds have been flowing to environmental organizations filing suit on procedural grounds.
Rep. Lummis' amendment restores transparency to EAJA payments by reinstating tracking and reporting requirements on all attorney reimbursements. The amendment also requires the creation of a searchable, online data base of all EAJA payments so tax-payers can easily access information on payments made, to whom, how much, and why. The amendment is pulled from Rep. Lummis' H.R. 1996, the Government Litigation and Savings Act (GLSA), a bill that improves EAJA by ensuring a fair market rate for attorneys representing seniors, veterans and small businesses, while at the same time closing loopholes that have allowed EAJA to be exploited. Going forward, the amendment will allow for more careful management of EAJA payments government-wide.
"Today's unanimous vote to require the robust tracking of tax-payer funded attorney's fees is a significant step toward updating EAJA," Rep. Lummis said. "The House has now spoken on this issue. In a bipartisan way, we have made clear that no one receiving tax-payer funds to pursue legal action against the government can do so in secret. There is more to do to make EAJA work the way it was intended. We need to ensure that our nation's veterans, seniors and small businesses have access to qualified attorneys. And we must put in place a reasonable eligibility standard for accessing EAJA in the first place. I am committed to working with both Republicans and Democrats to make the changes necessary to improve EAJA."