Congressman

Cynthia Lummis

Representing Wyoming

Lummis, Cohen Draft Bill to Track Equal Access to Justice Act Payments

Bipartisan legislation restarts agency tracking obligations; modernizes record-keeping with online database.

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Washington, Aug 1, 2013 | Christine D'Amico ((202) 225-2311) | comments
U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced legislation today, called the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, to reinstate tracking and reporting requirements of payments made under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).
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U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) introduced legislation today, called the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, to reinstate tracking and reporting requirements of payments made under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). 

 “The Equal Access to Justice Act was a good idea when it passed Congress more than three decades ago,“ said Congressman Lummis.  "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’s engagement in this effort, and look forward to working with him and our House colleagues to move this bill forward"

“Americans have a right to know what their government is doing and their government has a duty to be as transparent as possible,” said Congressman Cohen. “Without adequate reporting, citizen’s rights cannot be fully protected and the government risks failing in its duty to its people. I look forward to working with Representative Lummis to reopen the government’s books to help ensure that all Americans have access to this information.”

EAJA, initially passed in 1980, is funded by a permanent appropriation.  Payments of attorney’s fees and costs occur regardless of any annual spending decisions made by Congress.  To maintain its oversight responsibilities, 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.

The Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act requires every federal agency to begin tracking EAJA payments again, and tasks the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) with compiling that data.  ACUS is also required to submit an annual report to Congress, and to establish an online searchable database that will allow the public access to how much has been paid from EAJA, from which agencies, and to whom taxpayer dollars are being paid.

Representatives Lummis and Cohen are joined by Representatives Doug Collins (R-GA), and Joe Garcia (D-FL) in introducing the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act.

Background:

·         In 1980 Congress passed the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) as a means to help individuals, retirees, veterans, and small businesses recover attorney’s fees and costs associated with suing the federal government.  Congress intended EAJA to remove a barrier to justice for those with limited access to the resources it takes to sue or defend against the federal government.

·         The EAJA established two methods by which individuals or groups could recover the costs of suing the federal government.

·         The first method is through agency proceedings, codified under Title 5, Section 504 of U.S. Code.  It provides payments for adjudicatory proceedings within the agency themselves, as opposed to courts proceedings. 

o   The EAJA required the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS) to track these payments and report on them to Congress.

o   In 1994, Congress defunded ACUS without transferring the responsibility of tracking EAJA payments to another agency.

·         The second method to recover EAJA fees is through court proceedings, codified in Title 28, Section 2412(d) of U.S. Code.

o   The EAJA directed the Department of Justice to track these payments and report them to Congress.

o   In 1994, The Paperwork Reduction Act eliminated the DOJ’s tracking and reporting responsibility for EAJA payments.

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