Feb 04 2015 -

Fischer and Gardner Introduce Legislation to Increase Accountability for Taxpayer Funds in Lawsuits

Chairman Grassley Lends Support to Bill to Provide Oversight of Judgment Fund

WASHINGTON – Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Senators Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) and Cory Gardner (R-Col.) introduced new legislation that would require a public accounting of the taxpayer funds distributed to litigants who bring successful claims against the federal government. Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) joined in support of this legislation as they released the following statements regarding the bill, known as S. 350 - The Judgment Fund Transparency Act of 2015:

Senator Fischer:

“I am pleased to offer this important bill, one that will increase transparency and oversight of taxpayer dollars. For far too long, billions have been awarded in lawsuits by the federal government, with almost no information available to the public regarding the nature of these lawsuits. The Judgment Fund Transparency Act will provide hardworking taxpayers and members of Congress the ability to see exactly how their tax dollars are being spent on litigation expenses. Additionally, the bill provides transparency regarding the costs of agency misconduct.”

Senator Gardner:

“Unfortunately, the information available to the public about the money that the federal government pays out in lawsuits is woefully lacking in transparency. This bill would change that, promoting transparency in the Judgment Fund and helping curb abuse of this fund by groups continually suing the federal government.”

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Grassley:

“A little sunshine can go a long way to bringing greater accountability to the Judgment Fund. Since its inception, the fund has seen little by way of transparency, so this legislation will allow Congress and taxpayers to see just where the money is going. More transparency leads to greater accountability, which is something the federal government could use more of.”

The Judgment Fund is administered by the Treasury Department and used to pay for certain court judgments and settlements against the federal government. In the past two years alone, the federal government has paid more than $10 billion in Judgment Fund awards – with scant oversight.

This fund has continued to come under increased scrutiny, as it is allowed to allocate unlimited funds to cover government liability in lawsuits and is not subject to the annual appropriations process.

The Judgment Fund Transparency Act would address these and other concerns by promoting transparency and oversight. Specifically, it requires the Treasury Department to post on a publicly accessible website the claimant, counsel, agency, fact summary, and payment amount for each claim from the Judgment Fund (unless a law or court order otherwise prohibits the disclosure of such information).

Before the fund was established, claims against the government were assigned to a congressional committee responsible for appropriating funds to pay liability, attorneys’ fees, and costs associated with the claim. Since the fund was established in 1956, congressional committees ceased appropriating funds explicitly for this purpose. To date, if a government agency does not use its own annual budget to cover the costs, the Treasury simply pays the bill out of the fund – with little to no accountability.

Click here to view a pdf of S. 350 - The Judgment Fund Transparency Act of 2015.