Bill Reinstates Tracking and Reporting Requirements of Payments Made Under the Equal Access to Justice Act
The House Judiciary Committee today approved by voice vote the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act (H.R. 2919), a bipartisan bill authored by Representatives Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.). This bill reinstates tracking and reporting requirements of payments made by the federal government under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) in order to increase transparency and inform Congress of the impact and effectiveness of the law. The Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS), tasked with compiling this data under the bill, is required to submit an annual report to Congress and establish an online searchable database that will allow the public access to how much has been paid from the EAJA, from which agencies, and to whom taxpayer dollars are being paid.
The EAJA was initially passed by Congress in 1980 as a means to help individuals, retirees, veterans, and small businesses recover attorneys' fees and costs associated with suing the federal government. Although Congress included a requirement that agencies and the Department of Justice issue annual reports on the amount of money paid out under the law, Congress ended those tracking and reporting requirements in 1995.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.), and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) released the statements below praising today's Committee vote.
Chairman Goodlatte: "Our government works best when its activities are made transparent to the American people and Congress conducts robust oversight to make sure the laws it passes are working. The current lack of reporting and record keeping regarding the actual use of the Equal Access to Justice Act makes it difficult for Congress to accurately assess the impact and effectiveness of the law. I am pleased the House Judiciary Committee has approved commonsense legislation today that will shed light on the scope of the Equal Access to Justice Act. I thank my colleagues, Representatives Lummis and Cohen, for their hard work in drafting this legislation."
Rep. Lummis: "The Equal Access to Justice Act was a good idea when it passed Congress more than three decades ago. It remains a good idea today so long as it is operating as Congress intended. Requiring agencies to keep track of what they pay attorneys will help Congress determine if EAJA is working well, or not. I am appreciative of Rep. Cohen and Chairman Goodlatte's engagement in this effort, and I am pleased to see this bill pass the Judiciary Committee."
Rep. Cohen: "Americans have a right to know what their government is doing and their government has a duty to be as transparent as possible. Without adequate reporting, citizens' rights cannot be fully protected and the government risks failing in its duty to its people. I am glad our bipartisan Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act was reported out of committee today and I look forward to continuing my work with Representative Lummis to reopen the government's books to help ensure that all Americans have access to this information."