Collins leads support for bicameral measure to increase transparency of government payments

U.S. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), ranking member on the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, on Jan. 24 sponsored the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, which aims to increase transparency of legal actions taken by the federal government.

H.R. 752 would require the maintenance of databases on awards of fees and other expenses to American taxpayers involved in certain administrative proceedings and court cases to which the United States is a party, according to the congressional record summary of the bill.

“We must protect the American people from abusive litigation tactics they suffer at the hands of the federal government,” said Rep. Collins, who was joined by U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN) in introducing the bill last week. “The Equal Access to Justice Act is a key tool in providing this recourse.”

H.R. 752 would authorize payments be made to American taxpayers who sue or defend against lawsuits issued against them by the federal government. To date, such disbursements under the law haven’t been publicly recorded or reported on for decades, according to Rep. Collins.

“The lack of transparency surrounding payments makes it hard to know whether the law is working as intended,” the lawmaker said. “Restoring transparency and reporting requirements will hold the federal government accountable and help ensure our justice system does not abuse its power.”

If enacted, H.R. 752 would reinstate tracking and reporting requirements under the Equal Access to Justice Act and would require that the Administrative Conference of the United States develop a public, searchable online database to house this data, according to a summary of the bill provided by Collins’ office.

“Americans have a right to know what their government is doing and their government has a duty to be as transparent as possible,” said Rep. Cohen.  “Without adequate reporting, citizens’ rights cannot be fully protected, and the government risks failing in its duty to its people.”

H.R. 752 is now under review by the House Judiciary Committee.

Additionally, U.S. Sens. John Barrasso (R-WY) and Chris Coons (D-DE) on Jan. 24 introduced companion legislation, the same-named S. 217, which has been referred for consideration to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee.

“The Equal Access to Justice Act is an important tool for hard-working Americans who would not otherwise be able to afford expensive challenges to the federal government,” Sen. Barrasso said.