Politics

Bill Meant to Clear Public Access to Congressional Reports Running Out of Time

Measure would require online portal for congressionally mandated reports

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., sponsored a bill to create a single online portal for reports federal agencies submit to Congress. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A bill meant to clear the way for public access to reports submitted to Congress is in danger of hitting a roadblock, government transparency advocates warned Thursday. 

The bipartisan Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act was approved without objection by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform and the Administration Committee in February and April, clearing the way for consideration on the House floor. 

But with only a week before the House recesses for the summer, the window of opportunity is running out, according to a letter submitted to the House Administration Committee and signed by 30 supporters of the bill. 

That letter points out that a version of the bill was first introduced in 2010. 

“After a long 8 years we are hopeful it will become part of this Congress’s transparency legacy,” it reads. 

A spokeswoman from bill sponsor Mike Quigley’s office blamed the holdup on Republicans on the House Administration Committee, who are using it as leverage for a larger bill  concerning the Government Publishing Office, she said.

“This is a non-controversial, bipartisan bill to increase government transparency,” said Quigley, D-Ill. “There is no reason to obstruct common-sense policy that seeks to empower and inform the American public, who are sick of politicians’ partisan attempts to avoid accountability.”

Other Democratic co-sponsors expressed similar frustration. 

“The Access to Congressionally Mandated Reports Act is an important bill that provides a simple sense step Congress can take to improve Americans’ access to information, it deserves to at least be considered for passage.” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Cal. 

“Why not release all government reports, or at least those that aren’t classified?” said Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn.

Committee spokeswoman Courtney Parella said the committee, “fully support[s]” the measure and would like to see it move to the floor.  “We are working with other committees of jurisdiction to accomplish this goal,” she said.

The bill would require the Government Publishing Office to create a single online portal from which the public can access electronic copies of all congressionally mandated reports completed by federal agencies.  It would also require the creation of a system to track which reports had been submitted. 

“It’s vital for congress to know what the agencies are doing, and these reports provide and essential window into their operations,” said Daniel Schuman, policy director for Demand Progress, one of the groups that signed the letter. 

“Unfortunately, the reports aren’t widely shared in Congress, which creates gaps in oversight, as well as duplication and wasted agency efforts.”

Congress gets thousands of reports from federal agencies every year, but does not put them in a centralized place, Quigley said in a press release when the bill was introduced in December. He added that the clerk of the House keeps a list of the reports that runs more than 320 pages. 

The measure has had strong support from outside groups, including libraries, civil liberties groups and advocates for open government records. Forty-five such organizations signed a letter calling for the bill’s swift passage in April.

Quigley’s office said it hoped that the bill would be brought to the floor on suspension of the rules in the last week of this month.

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