Congressman Steve Cohen

Representing the 9th District of Tennessee

Congressmen Cohen, Collins Introduce Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

January 24, 2019
Press Release
Bipartisan, bicameral measure would assure transparency

WASHINGTON – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09), Chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, and Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Committee, today introduced the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act. This legislation requires the federal government to keep records on Equal Access to Justice Act payments, including reimbursements to individuals for attorney’s fees accrued as a result of unjustified legal action taken by the federal government.

The Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) allows prevailing litigants to collect attorney’s fees and costs associated with suing or defending against the federal government. However, disbursements under EAJA have not been publicly recorded or reported on for decades. The legislation introduced today would bring needed transparency on this front.

“Americans have a right to know what their government is doing, and their government has a duty to be as transparent as possible,” said Cohen. “Without adequate reporting, citizens' rights cannot be fully protected, and the government risks failing in its duty to its people. I look forward to working with my colleagues to reopen the government’s books to help ensure that all Americans have access to this information.”

“We must protect the American people from abusive litigation tactics they suffer at the hands of the federal government,” said Collins. “The Equal Access to Justice Act is a key tool in providing this recourse, but the lack of transparency surrounding payments makes it hard to know whether the law is working as intended. Restoring transparency and reporting requirements will hold the federal government accountable and help ensure our justice system does not abuse its power.”

Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Senate companion to the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act today.

“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,” said Barrasso. “But even important tools like EAJA can be exploited. Over the years, EAJA operated with no oversight and no reporting. EAJA is funded by taxpayer dollars, and Congress should make sure those dollars are being used for their original intent – to help our nation’s veterans, seniors, and small businesses.”

Background:

This legislation would reinstate tracking and reporting requirements for EAJA. It would ensure that federal agencies report payments made to cover attorney’s fees for victims of those agencies’ unjustified lawsuits and that the public can access these records.

The legislation would require the Administrative Conference of the United States to develop a public, searchable online database housing this data.

This bill’s transparency requirements would allow Congress and the American people to hold federal agencies accountable for their use of taxpayer dollars.

Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) are also original cosponsors of this legislation. The bill has received bipartisan and bicameral support.