Weekly Column

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It’s the little things that count. Greatness is in the details. These wise words hold true in so many areas of life, from family to health to personal finance.

It also holds true for government finance. Here, the little things, those obscure accounts tucked away in Washington’s cobwebby corners, can swell into some very big, very bad things.

One such obscure account is the Judgment Fund.

The Judgment Fund is a little-known account within the U.S. Treasury Department. Created more than 60 years ago, it’s used to pay certain court judgments and settlements against the federal government. Most Americans have never heard of it. Though rarely seen in headlines, this one account pays out billions of taxpayer dollars each year.

This fund does not fall under Congress’s annual appropriations process. That is, the Treasury Department has no binding reporting requirements. Money from the Judgment Fund is paid out with scant scrutiny, and there’s no limit on how much money can flow from it.

In government, that’s never a good thing.

In 2016, the Obama administration used the Judgment Fund to deliver $1.3 billion to Iran’s Central Bank. Ransom for American hostages was coordinated with this payment. The Obama administration also considered bailing out failing ObamaCare insurance companies with funds from this unlimited pot of money.

The lack of oversight of the Judgment Fund is bad enough. Abuse of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars is even worse. In the case of the Iran deal, the Obama administration delivered cash to a regime that actively supports terrorist groups, some of which, like Hezbollah and Hamas, have killed Americans.

This is why I have reintroduced two bills to promote transparency of this fund and strengthen oversight of taxpayer dollars.

The first is the Judgment Fund Transparency Act. I first introduced this bill in the 113th Congress and then again with Colorado Senator Cory Gardner in 114th Congress. In 2016, we were successful in getting it passed in the Senate as part of the Energy Policy Modernization Act. Unfortunately, the Energy Bill did not reach a consensus with the House before the end of the last Congress.

We are bringing it back now.

The Judgment Fund Transparency Act would require a public accounting of taxpayer funds distributed to parties that bring successful claims against the federal government. Specifically, it would require the Treasury Department to post publicly the claimant, counsel, agency, fact summary, and payment amount for each claim from the Judgment Fund.

I have also joined my colleague from Oklahoma, Senator James Lankford, to reintroduce another bill: the Judgment Fund Transparency and Terrorism Financing Protection Act.

We first introduced this bill last year, after journalists discovered the murky money the Obama administration had paid to Iran. Our bill would require that information on payments for domestic or international court judgments be made public. Through this more tailored effort, we aim to prohibit taxpayer-fund payments to foreign nations that sponsor terrorism.

This was good policy in 2016; we are continuing these same efforts in the new Congress.

These bills call for an increase in transparency and oversight of the Judgment Fund. They would provide Members of Congress and hardworking Americans with the ability to see exactly how taxpayer dollars are being spent. With a new president and a new Congress, I am hopeful that these common-sense, open government measures can become law.

Congress has a responsibility to ensure citizens’ hard-earned dollars are used responsibly. With these bills, Congress has a chance to pay attention to the obscure, forgotten things in government. Like many so-called “little things,” they can become far bigger problems down the road. 

Thank you for your participation in our democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.