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H.R. 4631 (115th): Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act

They range from the deadly serious — such as State Department reports about human rights or terrorism — to the less serious, such as a Customs and Border Protection report about cat and dog fur protection.

The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act would make almost every report to Congress from a federal agency available to the public.

Context and what the bill does

Every year, Congress requires more than 4,000 reports from federal agencies. Yet a great many of these are never released or made available to the public. While some are for reasons of national security or diplomatic relations, most which aren’t released to the public have less clear excuses.

The bill would require the public release of any congressionally mandated report within 30 days of its submission to Congress, as long as the report is subject to the Freedom of Information Act. (That is, not considered secret.) All of them would then be collected under a central website run by the Government Printing Office. While many reports are released by agencies individually, no such central website currently exists.

The bill was introduced on December 12 by Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL5), and numbered H.R. 4631 in the House.

What supporters say

Supporters argue the legislation would help the public finally discover thousands of examples of what their government has learned, discovered, and determined using their taxpayer dollars.

“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,” Rep. Quigley said in a press release. “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.”

GovTrack Insider was unable to locate any outright statements of opposition to the bill. What would seemingly be the biggest concern, security risks, would presumably be alleviated by a provision in the bill exempting confidential reports from public release.

GovTrack endorsement

GovTrack almost never endorses legislation, but did endorse this bill in a letter signed by several dozens organizations. Other signatories included the American Library Association, Center for Responsive Politics, Government Accountability Project, Society of Professional Journalists, and Sunlight Foundations.

“Currently, congressional staff often are unaware of or have difficulty finding agency reports to Congress, especially when they are submitted to another committee or chamber. Reports often are lost or duplicated,” the letter signed by GovTrack and other said. “In addition, while the reports could be made available to the public, they can be hard to find online and the FOIA request process is slow and costly.”

Odds of passage

The legislation has attracted a bipartisan mix of seven House cosponsors: four Democrats and three Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Quigley introduced previous versions in 20112013, and 2016, but none of those versions ever received a vote.

A House press release announcing this year’s version claimed that a companion Senate version of the bill would be introduced by Sens. Rob Portman (R-OH) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), but it does not appear to have been officially introduced yet.

Last updated Dec 21, 2017. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Dec 12, 2017.

Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act

This bill requires the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish and maintain a publicly available website containing copies of all congressionally mandated reports. The website must feature, in addition to certain descriptive information related to such reports: (1) the ability to retrieve a report through specified types of searches; (2) a means for downloading reports individually or in bulk; (3) an electronic means for federal agencies to submit reports to the GPO, as required by the bill; and (4) in tabular form, a list of all reports that can be searched and sorted by time frame or submission status.

The Office of Management and Budget must issue guidance to federal agencies on the bill's requirement for agencies to submit copies of congressionally mandated reports and related information to the GPO. With respect to each report, the relevant federal agency may redact or withhold certain information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act and other laws.

At least annually by April 1, the Library of Congress must submit to the GPO a list of all congressionally mandated reports from the previous year. The list shall be provided in an open format and must include specified identifying and otherwise descriptive information.