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Bill proposes cutting agency reports, which are swamping Congress

A House Democrat has introduced a bill to fix a problem that Congress itself created — an expensive pileup of written reports from federal agencies, many of them unnecessary and unread.

The solution: Every five years, get rid of almost all the reports and start over.

That plan is outlined in a measure that Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) wrote after reading an article in Sunday’s Washington Post.

The Post story described how Congress began requiring executive-branch agencies to send in written memos about their activities. The problem was that, over the decades, Congress asked for far more reports than lawmakers had time to read. Today, Congress is officially expecting about 4,291 reports, from 466 agencies and nonprofits.

In some cases, the reports have continued to arrive long after Congress ceased to care. Producing the official Dog and Cat Fur Protection Report, for instance, requires 15 federal employees and several weeks of work. But none of the seven congressional committees that actually receive the report find it useful.

“Too much work is being done researching, writing, compiling reports that go to Congress that aren’t necessary and aren’t read,” Bonamici said in an interview. “There are plenty of other things that agencies can and should be doing” instead, she said.

Bonamici’s bill would solve the problem by setting a “sunset” date, five years after the day her bill is enacted. On that day, every report required by law at that moment would be eliminated (unless Congress added a special clause to the law to protect it).

After that, Congress could ask for new reports. But, in another five years, the slate would be wiped clean again. And so on.

On Monday, Bonamici said her bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-Utah). Still, it is likely to face an uphill fight in Congress. Earlier this year, an effort by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) to eliminate little-used reports ran into resistance from some committees, who didn’t want the reports they receive to go away.

In the end, the House voted to eliminate just 79 of the 4,291 reports.

David A. Fahrenthold covers Congress for the Washington Post. He has been at the Post since 2000, and previously covered (in order) the D.C. police, New England, and the environment.

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