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house Bill H.R. 4631

Should Reports Sent to Congress be Publicly Available in a Searchable Database?

Argument in favor

A single, public website that serves as a repository for all congressionally mandated reports would make it easier for the public to discover what the government has learned using their tax dollars and help congressional staffers who need to access the reports for their lawmaker or constituents.

Autumn's Opinion
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07/16/2018
A transparent government is a necessity to democracy. It would be an injustice to the public to not let them know the reasons decisions are made
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Terry's Opinion
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07/16/2018
Transparency, open Govt., no more secrecy. Since the one sided media does not keep us informed and has a difficult time putting out the facts and not there opinions.
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Andy1's Opinion
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07/16/2018
I would hope they include sources and methods as well, as some members of congress have questionable sources. i.e Todd Akin’s claim that raped women can “shut that whole thing down” in regards to the female reproductive system. I’d love to know where he got that information.
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Argument opposed

There are already ways for staffers and the public to access congressionally mandated reports. The House Clerk organizes all reports sent to Congress, and members of the public can request any agency records via FOIA requests.

James's Opinion
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07/16/2018
Not before that so called report is researched! And proven!
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Jim's Opinion
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07/17/2018
I don't see where this is necessary. We can always file a FOIA
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Stacy's Opinion
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07/16/2018
This will just be $2 million more down the drain. Does anyone really believe that any of their dirty deeds will end up in a congressionally mandated report?
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bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
  • The house has not voted
      house Committees
      Committee on Administration
      Committee on Oversight and Reform
    IntroducedDecember 12th, 2017

What is House Bill H.R. 4631?

This bill would require the Government Publishing Office (GPO) to establish and maintain a publicly available website containing copies of all congressionally mandated reports. The website would be required feature the following, along with 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) a list of all reports that can be searched and sorted by time frame or submission status (in a tabular form).

To bring this bill into effect, the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) would issue guidance to federal agencies on the bill’s requirement that agencies submit copies of congressionally mandated reports and related information to the GPO. Within reports’ bodies, agencies would retain discretion over redaction or withholding of certain information in accordance with the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and other applicable laws. Once appropriately redacted, all public-facing reports would be published to the website within 30 days of submission to Congress.

Finally, by April 1 of each year, the Library of Congress would be required to submit a list of all congressionally mandated reports from the previous year. This list would be provided in an open format, and would include specified identifying and descriptive information. It’d also be used by GPO to compare against the list of reports received from agencies, helping check whether agencies are complying with their responsibilities in a timely manner.

Impact

Members of the public seeking congressional reports; Congress; Government Publishing Office; Library of Congress; and Office of Management and Budget.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 4631

$2.00 Million
The CBO estimates that implementing this bill would cost about $2 million from 2019-2023. This amount would cover about $400,000 a year for four employees (two senior and two junior analysts) to ensure comprehensive compliance with the requirement to list all mandated reports.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) introduced this bill to improve both the public’s and congressional staffers’ access to reports mandated by Congress via the establishment of a searchable central 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 legislation passed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on a voice vote and currently has 16 bipartisan cosponsors of this bill, including nine Democrats, and seven Republicans.


Of NoteEvery 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.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: cyan066 /iStock)

AKA

Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act

Official Title

To require the Director of the Government Publishing Office to establish and maintain a website accessible to the public that allows the public to obtain electronic copies of all congressionally mandated reports in one place, and for other purposes.