Congress passes bills to reduce duplicative reports, improve access to public records

By Elise Garofalo
Federal News Radio

Wednesday was a productive day on Capitol Hill. The House unanimously passed Senate amendments Wednesday to two bills that would eliminate duplicative agency reports and improve public access to presidential records. Across the hall, a Senate committee approved two critical Homeland Security Department nominees.

The Government Reports Elimination Act of 2014 (H.R. 4194) eliminates or modifies reports by certain federal agencies that have been deemed unnecessary or redundant. It does away with more than 40 reports from 17 different federal agencies. Among the reports to be slashed are a DHS report on the importation of products with cat and dog fur, and the Veterans Affairs Department’s annual report on procurement of health care items by VA medical facilities.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) introduced H.R. 4194 in March and the bill passed on April 28. The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs picked it up by in July, and the bill passed the Senate with an amendment on Sept. 16.

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Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.) and Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) applauded the passage of H.R. 4194, while introducing their own bill aimed at reducing additional duplicative government reports. The Reports Reduction Act of 2014 will eliminate or modify 67 unnecessary government reports.

“Eliminating or modifying these outdated and often useless reports is a simple but effective step towards cutting waste and improving efficiency in the federal government,” Warner said, in a release. “Hundreds of federal employees spend countless hours producing mountains of these reports each year, and in many cases no one ever reads or even refers to those reports. Surely these agency resources could be targeted to smarter, more productive efforts that will actually provide more direct benefit to customers and taxpayers. Getting rid of 50 unnecessary reports is a solid start, but we can and should go even further, and I am pleased Sen. Ayotte and I will partner together once again to take aim at an additional 67 federal reports produced each year.”

In the same release, Ayotte called the elimination of the 50 government reports “a positive first step toward making government smaller and smarter.”

The Presidential and Federal Records Act Amendments of 2014 (H.R. 1233) passed unanimously on a voice vote. It aims to improve public access to records of the President and their advisers. Currently, the President can restrict access to his or her records for up to 12 years after they leave the Oval Office, and can continue to block publication of records based on a claim of executive privilege.

H.R. 1233 would maintain that 12-year period, but it would establish a precedent that presidential records be disclosed after that time passes. The bill establishes the procedures the Archivist of the United States will use to make records public. These include informing the public, the sitting President, and the President during whose term the record was created, that the record will be made publicly available. The record should be released within 60 days of that notification. The bill outlines steps the Archivist should take if the President claims a constitutionally-based privilege against disclosure of the record.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) introduced H.R. 1233 in March 2013 and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform amended it. The House passed the bill in January 2014. The Senate passed the bill with an amendment on Sept. 10. Supporters of the bill include the Government Accountability Project and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

Both H.R. 4194 and H.R. 1233 were considered under suspension of the rules, a procedure that caps debate at 40 minutes and prohibits further amendments. Rules are typically suspended for bills that are uncontroversial and enjoy wide support. They now head to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs also approved on Wednesday two significant DHS nominations: Russell Deyo for under secretary for management, and Sarah Saldaña for assistant secretary for immigration and customs enforcement.

The two nominees were ordered reported favorably by voice vote en bloc in the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs. Saldaña has been a U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas for three years, and previously served as the Deputy Criminal Chief for the Fraud and Public Corruption section in that office. Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.) said ICE has gone too long without a presidentially-appointed leader considering the current border crisis.

Deyo worked in the private sector at Johnson & Johnson for 27 years. Carper said Deyo’s management perspective will help fuse the 22 agencies of the DHS.

The nominations now move to the Senate floor.

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