H.R. 2919, Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

H.R. 2919

Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act

Committee
Judiciary

Date
May 6, 2014 (113th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, May 5, 2014, the House will consider H.R. 2919, the Open Book on Equal Access to Justice Act, under suspension of the rules.  H.R. 2919 was introduced on August 1, 2013 by Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) and was referred to the House Judiciary Committee.  The bill was marked up on February 5, 2014 and was ordered reported by a voice vote.

Bill Summary

H.R. 2919 amends the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) to institute tracking and reporting requirements for payments made by federal agencies under EAJA.  Specifically, the bill requires the Administrative Conference of the United States[1] (ACUS) to report annually to Congress on the amount of fees and expenses awarded to nonfederal entities that prevailed in court and agency adjudication against the government in the previous fiscal year.  Each agency must track its EAJA payments and provide the data to ACUS for inclusion in the annual report.  H.R. 2919 also requires ACUS to create and maintain a searchable online database that allows the public to access the data.

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[1] “[ACUS] is an independent federal agency dedicated to improving the administrative process through consensus-driven applied research, providing nonpartisan expert advice and recommendations for improvement of federal agency procedures.”  Administrative Conference of the United States: About the Administrative Conference of the United States (ACUS).  ACUS, in its current form, was created by Congress in 1964 to recommend ways to improve the administrative process.  Id.

Background

“[EAJA][2] provides for the award of attorney fees (up to $125 per hour) and other expenses to eligible individuals and small entities that are parties to litigation against the government.  An eligible party may receive an award when it prevails over the government, unless the government’s position was ‘substantially justified’ or special circumstances make an award unjust.”[3]  According to the Supreme Court, EAJA was enacted “to eliminate for the average person the financial disincentive to challenge unreasonable governmental actions.”[4]  A central goal of EAJA was “curbing excessive regulation and the unreasonable exercise of Government authority.”[5]

In the past, agencies were required to report annually on payments made pursuant to EAJA; however, Congress repealed the reporting requirements and defunded ACUS in 1995.  Although ACUS was reestablished in 2010, the EAJA reporting requirements have not been reinstated.  H.R. 2919 reinstates government-wide EAJA reporting, giving Congress the data necessary to conduct robust oversight of the federal government’s expenditures under EAJA.

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[2] 5 U.S.C. § 504; 28 U.S.C. § 2412.
[3] U.S. Small Business Administration: Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA).
[4] Comm’r v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 (1990).
[5] Id. at 165.

Cost

According to CBO estimates, implementing H.R. 2919 would cost approximately $1 million in FY 2015 and less than $500,000 each subsequent year.  The bill would not affect direct spending or revenues.

Additional Information

For questions or further information contact the GOP Conference at 5-5107.