Alex Brandon / AP

Lawmakers Unveil and Advance Bills Seeking to Increase Transparency of the Federal Government

The legislation involves the federal budget, regulations, public records requests, advisory committees and more.

A slew of bipartisan bills have been introduced and considered in Congress recently to buttress transparency of federal agencies’ budgets, operations and more.

Several of these bills have been unveiled during the 16th annual Sunshine Week, which promotes open government and runs from March 14-20, but many lawmakers are focused year-round on this issue. Although many presidential administrations say they champion transparency, their actions often don’t follow suit. The Trump administration was no exception.   

The following are some of the new transparency bills that have been introduced or are under consideration. On Wednesday morning, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee reported favorably to the full Senate:

  • The “Congressional Budget Justification Transparency Act,” which would instruct all federal agencies to post their congressional budget justifications on their websites, the Office of Management and Budget to create a public website to house all links to budget justifications and the Treasury Department to post the agencies’ budget documents on USAspending.gov.
  • The “Providing Accountability Through Transparency Act,” which would order agencies to provide a 100-word “plain language summary” with a notice of a proposed regulation. 
  • TheBillion Dollar Boondoggle Act,” which would require the OMB director to submit an annual report to Congress on projects that are more than five years behind schedule and/or over budget by at least $1 billion. The report would be posted online.
  • The “Duplication Scoring Act,” which would stipulate that the Government Accountability Office must analyze certain legislation to prevent the overlapping of federal programs or initiatives and then publish the report on its website. 

Additionally, the following bipartisan bills were introduced this week in recognition of Sunshine Week:

  • The “Federal Advisory Committee Transparency Act” (introduced in the House) would require that agencies inform committee members about ethics requirements, ensure they share detailed meeting minutes and clarify that the law applies to subcommittees and committees established by contractors, among other things. 
  • The “Open and Responsive Government Act" (introduced in the Senate) would limit the use of a Freedom of Information Act exemption, following a recent Supreme Court decision, as well as codify that information that doesn’t fall within FOIA exemptions should be made public, following recent regulations that “appear to conflict” with a holding by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 2016.

The advisory committee bill “would make advisory committees more transparent, strengthen the independence of advisory committees, improve oversight of the advisory committee process and close implementation loopholes,” said a group of 18 transparency and good government groups and experts in a letter endorsing it. 

“The people’s business ought to be available to the people. It’s only through public oversight and transparency that we ensure government programs are operating as intended, without any waste, fraud or abuse,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a co-sponsor of the FOIA bill and a long-time champion for federal oversight. “Transparency is something worth fighting for, and it seems we’re always in an uphill battle to keep the sunlight shining on government.”

Government Executive previously reported on another transparency-related bill introduced earlier this week by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is the “Presidential Records Preservation Act.” It would update the current law to require the president, vice president, and other senior White House officials to “make and preserve records” that document the president’s official activities.

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