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 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.
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.