In-Depth: Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) reintroduced this bill from the 115th Congress — which he first introduced in 2011 — to improve the public's and congressional staff's access to Congressionally mandated reports through the establishment of a searchable central website managed by the GPO:
“In our modern technological era, the American people deserve easy access to these taxpayer-funded reports and the wealth of information they contain. The ability to obtain these reports will benefit anyone interested in the public policy issues that impact their daily lives. From congressional staffers and government employees to everyday Americans, these public reports strengthen our service to all those we represent, as well as our commitment to transparency at every level of government.”
Last Congress, Rep. Quigley argued that there's no reason for Congressional reports to remain inaccessible via a searchable online repository:
“With an abundance of innovative, 21st century technology, it’s not too much to ask the federal government to make already published reports—paid for by taxpayers—easily accessible to the public. These reports, which span every issue area with in-depth, expert analysis, would provide valuable information to congressional staffers, students, journalists, businesses, and anyone else who wants to learn more about the policies that impact their lives. A more open and user-friendly data system will help Americans be better informed and help them hold elected officials accountable for the actions they take on constituents’ behalf.”
This bill is endorsed by 38 organizations across the political spectrum, including the American Civil Liberties Union, Campaign for Accountability, Center for Data Innovation, Center for Reponsive Politics, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), OpenTheGovernment, Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Sage Information Services.
This bill has 20 bipartisan cosponsors, including 13 Democrats and seven Republicans, in the current session of Congress. Last Congress, this bill passed the Committee on House Administration and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on voice votes with the support of 16 bipartisan cosponsors of this bill, including nine Democrats and seven Republicans.
Rep. Quigley first introduced this bill in 2011, and has introduced it in the past five Congresses.
Of Note: Every year, Congress receives thousands of reports from federal agencies, but currently does not compile them in a central location. Currently, these reports are maintained by the Clerk of the House in a comprehensive list that exceeds 320 pages, rather than in an easily searchable system.
This creates a number of problems: first, reports can be lost because they’re difficult to find on the publishing agency’s website. Second, reports can be lost because only a small number of copies are ever delivered by the agency (to a Committee, for example), fulfilling the letter of the law but not creating a real public record of the report. These two possibilities create a third problem: congressional staff — who often need reports for research — can have difficulty tracking a report down even a few months after the original publication date, making multiple calls to agencies in order to track down a copy, wasting valuable time and effort that could be better spent helping lawmakers serve their constituents’ needs.
While public access to agency reports via FOIA requests is available as a current means for the public to access the reports covered under this bill, the current FOIA request process is cumbersome, requiring that individuals submit requests in writing and describe the records they are seeking (not an easy feat if one is at the beginning of a fact-finding mission). Additionally, the process can be quite slow — although the law sets a deadline of 20 working days on the initial request, and 20 working days on the administrative appeal, delays are common.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: cyan066 /iStock)