Opening congressional reports to the world
A one-stop-shop in the pursuit of transparency could soon be reality.
A large number of reports from federal agencies to Congress never reach the public eye, but two lawmakers have introduced a bill that could change that. Reps. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, reintroduced on March 20 the bipartisan Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act. The bill strives to enhance government openness by putting online agency reports that are releasable under the Freedom of Information Act.
Every year, agencies submit thousands of reports to Congress "but many simply sit collecting dust on committee shelves," Quigley said. "Making these reports publicly accessible ensures that government business is done transparently and empowers everyday citizens to be the government’s best watchdog, holding it accountable to the people it serves."
The website would allow the public to easily search, sort and download congressional reports from agencies. Reports would have to be available within 30 days of their submission to Congress. The website itself would be managed by the Government Printing Office and offer free access.
The bill was originally introduced in the 112th Congress and passed by the oversight committee. In July 2012, Daniel Schuman, policy counsel and director of the Advisory Committee on Transparency at the Sunlight Foundation, said the proposed legislation would resolve a longstanding issue that complicates oversight efforts.
"The bill fixes a problem that has bedeviled Congress and watchdogs for years," he wrote on the foundation’s blog. "Federal agencies are required to submit reports to Congress, but they often fail to do so, and even reports that have been submitted often cannot be found on agency websites or congressional web pages. This makes oversight incredibly difficult."
Quigley recently reintroduced another bill aimed at increasing transparency in government. The Congressional Research Service Electronic Accessibility Act would require the public release of unclassified reports produced by the Congressional Research Service, which provides policy and legal analysis to Congress.
Taxpayers are already footing the $100 million-a-year bill to fund these reports, without having access to them, Hudson Hollister, executive director of the Data Transparency Coalition, told FCW on March 7.
"When taxpayers pay for these reports and there is not some compelling legal reason not to publish, they should be published," he said.
Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.