CoA Institute President John Vecchione Submits Written Testimony to Senate Judiciary Committee for Sunshine Week

Before The United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary

Hearing on The Freedom of Information Act: Examining the Administration’s Progress on Reforms and Looking Ahead

March 13, 2018

Written Testimony of John Vecchione

President & CEO, Cause of Action Institute

Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Feinstein, and Members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to submit this written testimony about the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), the implementation of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, and other issues related to government transparency.

My name is John Vecchione and I am the president and CEO of Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”).  We are a nonpartisan, nonprofit government oversight organization committed to ensuring that government decision-making is open, honest, and fair.  We use various communication, investigatory, and legal tools to pursue that mission.  We believe deeply that in order for a government to be accountable to the people, it must be transparent.  To that end, we use the FOIA to gather information and educate the public.  But we also police agency behavior under the FOIA, submit regulatory comments on proposed FOIA regulations, and use strategic litigation to bring agencies into compliance with the FOIA and the Federal Records Act.[1]

Today, I would like to address two important topics: the proposed policy of Release to One, Release to All and agencies updating their regulations to reflect statutory changes in the FOIA.

Release to One, Release to All

In July 2016, the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of the FOIA.  Congress marked the occasion by passing the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016.[2]  In conjunction with signing the bill into law, President Obama announced a series of policies to implement the bill and build on the goal of increasing government transparency.[3]  One of those policy initiatives was to learn from the Department of Justice Office of Information Policy’s (“OIP”) Release to One, Release to All pilot program and to work toward all agencies posting their FOIA productions online.

President Obama wrote that this “concept would ensure that all citizens—not just those making a request—have access to information released under FOIA.”[4]

[The President then] direct[ed] the newly established Chief FOIA Officers Council to consider the lessons learned from the DOJ pilot program and work to develop a Federal Government policy establishing a “release to one is a release to all” presumptive standard for Federal agencies when releasing records under FOIA.  The Chief FOIA Officers Council [was directed to] examine issues critical to this policy’s implementation, including assessing the impact on investigative journalism efforts, as well as how best to address technological and resource challenges.[5]

President Obama established a “January 1, 2017 [deadline for] the Chief FOIA Officers Council [to] work with the Office of Management and Budget (‘OMB’) to provide further guidance” on this policy.[6]

On August 10, 2016, in a round of pre-publication comments, CoA Institute submitted comments to OMB and OIP that broadly supported the Release to One, Release to All policy and identified areas where explicit guidance language was necessary to prevent abuse of discretion or agency-avoidance behavior.[7]  We support the policy “because when an agency produces records under FOIA, it has reviewed those records for release to the public and not just the requester.  Proactive disclosure of records may reduce the need for use of FOIA to access information in the first place and thus lessen the burden on FOIA offices throughout the federal government.”[8]  Congress has long recognized that frequently requested records should be proactively disclosed by agencies.  In the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Congress directed that once a record has been requested and released three times, the agency must post the record in its electronic reading room.[9]  Release to One, Release to All simply takes this idea one step further and would have agencies release information to the public after the first FOIA request and production.

CoA Institute is concerned that too many exceptions to the Release to One, Release to All policy could undermine the policy’s goal.  Namely, in our comments, we highlighted that an exemption for content that is “inappropriate” could be abused “to protect the agency mission, agency head, administration generally, or the president from the political fallout of an embarrassing release.”[10]  CoA Institute has been investigating the role political interference plays in the release of information through FOIA,[11] and we urged OIP not to allow such considerations to taint a Release to One, Release to All policy.  As part of this project, we recently profiled the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s practice of applying so-called “sensitive review” procedures to “high visibility” FOIA requests.[12]

We also commented on several others issues as well, including: agency compliance the readability requirements of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act, the posting of auxiliary information along with produced documents (such as final determination letters), and recognizing the need for a short delay between releasing information to the requester and making information publicly available in order to safeguard incentives for requesters—particularly news organizations—to make requests in the first place.

In December 2016, OIP issued a request for comment in the Federal Register, seeking input on its draft guidance.[13]  The comment period closed on December 23, 2016.  President Obama’s January 1, 2017 deadline has come and gone; and, more than a year later, neither OMB nor OIP has finalized the guidance or implemented the policy.  OIP also has refused to respond to multiple requests for updates on its process of either finalizing or abandoning the policy.  Frustrated by this lack of action, in October 2017, CoA Institute joined with the Sunlight Foundation and filed a petition for rulemaking with OIP and OMB asking those agencies to finalize the Release to One, Release to All policy.[14]  We have not received a response.

Release to One, Release to All remains an important opportunity for the government to both increase the amount of government information in the public sphere and also potentially ease the burden on FOIA offices.  It is both ironic and unfortunate that the agencies tasked with implementing a transparency policy are being opaque about their plans with regard to the policy.  I urge this Committee to press OIP and OMB to finalize and implement Release to One, Release to All.

Agency FOIA Regulations

The FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 required agencies to update their FOIA regulations within 180 days of enactment to reflect the statutory changes.[15]  As often happens, most agencies missed this deadline but, as a whole, agencies have made moderate and steady progress in updating their regulations.

There are approximately 120 agencies subject to the FOIA.[16]  Although most agencies have their own regulations, some share regulations with another agency; and some entities within an agency, such as an office of inspector general, may have FOIA regulations separate from a parent agency.[17]  Therefore, there does not appear to be an exact count of how many FOIA regulations need to be updated with each statutory amendment.  According to FOIA Advisor, a website that tracks FOIA news and regulatory developments, since the passage of the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, approximately sixty-three agencies, or about half, have either proposed or finalized updates to their FOIA regulations.

CoA Institute has been paying particular attention to this process because many agencies still maintain an anachronistic definition of a “representative of the news media,” a category of FOIA requester that is able to access records at a reduced cost.  Congress defined the term more than a decade ago in the Open Government Act of 2007.[18]  We were embroiled in litigation over this issue when the Federal Trade Commission used the outdated standard that an entity must be “organized and operated” to publish or broadcast news to deny CoA Institute access to records by claiming we did not qualify for reduced fees and demanding we pay a large sum in order to access records.  Unfortunately, agencies sometimes try to use fees and fee definitions to deny requesters access to records.  In 2015, CoA Institute secured an opinion from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit holding that the “organized and operated” standard has no place in FOIA administration and that agencies must use Congress’s statutory definition.[19]

Following that decision, CoA Institute has been submitting regulatory comments to agencies when they propose or finalize new FOIA regulations in an attempt to bring those agencies’ regulations in line with the 2007 Act and binding jurisprudence.  Over the past few years, we have submitted twenty-four regulatory comments, many focused on agencies’ improper fee definitions.

Relatedly, OMB maintains a three-decades-old guidance document—which the FOIA requires agencies to follow—directing agencies to use the “organized and operated” standard.[20]  CoA Institute is currently in litigation with OMB over a petition for rulemaking we submitted urging OMB to update its guidance and conform to the statute.[21]  When CoA Institute filed that petition, the improper “organized and operated” standard appeared in the Code of Federal Regulations more than seventy times, including in the FOIA regulations of eleven cabinet-level agencies.[22]  While we have been successful in convincing several agencies to conform to the statute,[23] the improper definition of a representative of the news media still appears in dozens of agency FOIA regulations and in OMB’s guidance.

CoA Institute will continue to monitor agency regulatory updates and urge them to bring their regulations into harmony with the FOIA statute.  I urge you to raise this issue with OMB and encourage them to update their guidance document.


I want to thank you again for the opportunity to submit this written statement for the record.  I look forward to continuing to work with you to secure the public’s right to access documents concerning the public’s business.


A PDF file of the testimony is available here.

[1] See, e.g., Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Kerry, 844 F.3d 952 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (securing decision as co-plaintiff that agency Federal Records Act obligations are not moot so long as agency can still recover records that have been unlawfully removed from the government); Cause of Action v. Fed. Trade Comm’n, 799 F.3d 1108 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (securing decision on proper definition of a “representative of the news media” under FOIA’s fee provisions).

[2] FOIA Improvement Act of 2016, Pub. L. No. 114-185, 130 Stat. 538 (2016).

[3] Press Release, The White House, Fact Sheet: New Steps Toward Ensuring Openness and Transparency in Government (June 30, 2016), available at

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Letter from James Valvo, Cause of Action Inst., to Hon. Shaun L. S. Donovan, Dir., Office of Mgmt. & Budget, White House, & Melanie Ann Pustay, Dir., Office of Info. Policy, Dep’t of Justice (Aug. 10, 2016) [hereinafter CoA Institute Release to One, Release to All Comment], available at

[8] Id. at 2.

[9] FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 § 2(a); 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(2)(D)(ii)(II).

[10] CoA Institute Release to One, Release to All Comment at 2.

[11] See Cause of Action Inst., Grading the Government: How the White House Targets Document Requesters (Mar. 18, 2014), available at; Cause of Action Inst., White House FOIA Obstruction, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018).

[12] Ryan Mulvey, NOAA Records Demonstrate Expansion of Sensitive Review FOIA Procedures, Cause of Action Inst. (Mar. 12, 2018),

[13] Dep’t of Justice, Request for Public Comment on Draft “Release to One, Release to All” Presumption, 81 Fed. Reg. 89023 (Dec. 9, 2016); see Draft Mem. for the Heads of Departments & Agencies, “Release to One, Release to All” Presumption:  Achieving Greater Transparency by Making More Information Available Online, from Office of Info. Policy, Dep’t of Justice (undated).

[14] See Letter from Alex Howard, Deputy Dir., Sunlight Found. & James Valvo, CoA Inst., to Hon. Mick Mulvaney, Dir., Office of Mgmt. & Budget, White House, & Melanie Ann Pustay, Dir., Office of Info. Policy, Dep’t of Justice (Oct. 31, 2017), available at

[15] FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 § 3(a).

[16] See, Where to Make a FOIA Request, Full List of Agencies, (last visited Mar. 12, 2018) (listing agency FOIA contacts).

[17] See, e.g., 7 C.F.R. pt. 2620 (Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General maintaining separate FOIA regulations).

[18] See Openness Promotes Effectiveness in our National Government Act of 2007 § 3, Pub. L. No. 110-175, 121 Stat. 2524, 2525 (2007).

[19] See Cause of Action, 799 F.3d at 1119.

[20] See Office of Mgmt. & Budget, Uniform Freedom of Information Act Fee Schedule and Guidelines, 52 Fed. Reg. 10012 (Mar. 27, 1987); 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(A)(i) (Agency fee schedules “shall conform to the guidelines which shall be promulgated . . . by the Director of [OMB] and which shall provide for a uniform schedule of fees for all agencies.”).

[21] See Cause of Action Inst. v. White House Office of Mgmt. & Budget, No. 17-2310 (D.D.C. filed Nov. 2, 2017).

[22] See Letter from James Valvo, CoA Inst. to, Hon. Shaun L.S. Donovan, Dir., Office of Mgmt. & Budget, at 4 (June 2, 2016) (listing agencies), available at

[23] See Ryan Mulvey, CoA Institute Criticizes the Presido Trust on Flawed FOIA Rule, Cause of Action Inst., Mar. 6, 2018, (detailing successful regulatory comments to “among others, the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Office of the Special Counsel, Department of Defense, U.S. Agency for International Development, and Department of Homeland Security”).

Congress Investigates IRS for Trying to Evade Oversight

Over the past two weeks, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs (“HSGAC”) Chairman Ron Johnson and HSGAC Subcommittee on Regulatory Affairs Chairman James Lankford have sent two letters to investigate the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) claim that any economic impact from the agency’s rules is due to the underlying statute and not its regulatory choices.  Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) profiled the IRS claim, its implications, and the role of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (“OIRA”) in a recent investigative report and op-ed.

HSGAC Letter to OIRA

On February 1, 2018, Chairmen Johnson and Lankford sent a letter to OIRA urging the White House regulatory office to reconsider a “longstanding agreement between [OIRA] and the Department of the Treasury to exempt regulations issued by the [IRS] from the requirements contained in Executive Order 12866.”

In 1983, OIRA, under President Reagan, agreed to create a three-tiered system to review IRS rules, which has resulted in very few IRS rules being sent to the White House regulatory office for pre-publication review.[1]  The IRS finally released the long-secret agreement in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from CoA Institute.  The Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) has also called for the agreement to be revisited.

In their letter, Chairmen Johnson and Lankford:

strongly urge[d] [OIRA] to revisit the regulatory agreement between OIRA and Treasury, as directed by President Trump’s EO 13789, with a critical eye as to why this agreement is necessary.  [They] also encourage[d] OIRA to implement all the recommendations in GAO’s September 2016 report and provide a full explanation to the Committee and Subcommittee in the event that OIRA declines to implement any of GAO’s recommendations.

The Chairmen also announced that they “intend[] to hold an oversight hearing in the very near future regarding OIRA activities.  The issues outlined in this letter will likely constitute a major part of this hearing.”

This effort is important because OIRA plays a key role in coordinating and legitimizing Executive Branch regulatory actions.  If an agency is able to make federal regulatory policy without oversight from the President, that policy not only lacks independent review but also political legitimacy.  OIRA is well-positioned to rein in the IRS and demand that the agency begin to do the same pre-publication regulatory cost-benefit analysis and economic-impact analysis as other federal agencies.

It will be interesting to hear OIRA Administrator Neomi Rao’s thoughts on the long-standing, long-secret memo at a congressional oversight hearing, as I do not believe OIRA as an institution has spoken on the issue since 1993.  Hopefully, Administrator Rao will take this opportunity to review and end the agreement between OIRA and Treasury and bring the IRS into line with other agencies.

HSGAC Letter to IRS

In addition, on February 13, 2018, Chairmen Johnson and Lankford sent a letter to Acting IRS Commissioner David Kautter presenting many of the findings from CoA Institute’s report.[2]  In their letter, the Chairmen summarized the report’s central finding:

[CoA Institute’s] report found that the IRS “takes the position that its rules have no economic effect because any impact is attributable to the underlying law that authorized the rule, not the agency’s decision to issue or alter the rule.”  The IRS’s position apparently dates back nearly 20 years, when the IRS Office of Chief Counsel issued a notice taking this position.  The report notes that while the IRS initially limited its economic analysis exemption to only “interpretative regulations and revenue impacts, both limitations fell away over time.”

The Chairmen asked the IRS a number of oversight questions, to learn more about the agency’s behavior and any justification it may have.  First, they asked whether “the IRS has conducted any retrospective economic impact analyses of regulations that did not receive an initial economic impact analysis.”  I am dubious that the IRS has done so.  If it believes its rules are exempt from initial economic impact analysis, I doubt its going back to see if it was right or wrong.  Any retroactive analysis likely would just shift blame back to the underlying statute again.

Second, the Chairmen noted that in 2016 “the Small Business Administration’s [(“SBA”)] Office of Advocacy wrote to the IRS disputing the agency’s assertion that the IRS’s regulations are not subject to the requirement to conduct economic impact analyses.”  The Chairmen want to know if the IRS ever responded to SBA or if any other agencies have pushed back on the IRS claim.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the Chairmen asked the IRS to “explain the process by which a determination is made as to whether the agency will or will not conduct an economic impact analysis on a proposed regulation.”  This final question is critical because, up to now, the IRS has provided very little explanation of how it goes about making the determination in an individualized case that a certain rule’s impact flows from the statute.  CoA Institute’s work in this area shows that the agency developed these self-bestowed exemptions over time, found them a convenient tool to avoid additional pre-publication work, and rarely gives more than a boilerplate claim that the exemption applies to certain cases.

It is heartening to see that Chairmen Johnson and Lankford are beginning the oversight process on this issue.  I look forward to seeing the responses from OIRA and the IRS.

James Valvo is Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute.  He is the principal author of Evading Oversight.  You can follow him on Twitter @JamesValvo.

[1] In 2016, CoA Institute found that “over the past ten years, the IRS has submitted only eight rules to OIRA for regulatory review and deemed only one of those rules significant.  Those eight rules are less than one percent of the final rules the IRS published in the Federal Register over the same period.”

[2] President Trump recently nominated Chuck Rettig to be the new IRS Commissioner, and CoA Institute has urged the Senate Finance Committee to press Mr. Rettig on whether he will end this IRS practice of evading oversight of its regulatory actions.

Rettig Nomination Gives Congress Chance to Hold IRS Accountable

Last month, Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) released an investigative report detailing a pernicious practice at the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”).  The agency claims that none of the economic impact caused by its rules is attributable to its regulatory choices. Instead it says the impact flows from the underlying statute.  The IRS uses this claim to evade three important oversight mechanisms.  When we released the report, we called on Congress to press whomever President Trump nominated to be the next IRS commissioner to promise to reform this practice.  Well, Trump just nominated Chuck Rettig to head the agency.  So it’s time for Congress to stand up and hold the IRS accountable for its decades-long practice of playing by its own rules.

CoA Institute just sent a letter to Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch and Ranking Member Ron Wyden urging them to press Mr. Rettig on this issue during their face-to-face meetings and at a public hearing.

View the Letter Concerning Mr. Rettig’s Nomination Below

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James Valvo is Counsel and Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute.  He is the principal author of Evading Oversight.  You can follow him on Twitter @JamesValvo.

CoA Institute Investigating Taxpayer-Funded Settlements for Sexual Harassment, Discrimination on Capitol Hill

Washington D.C. – Cause of Action Institute (“CoA Institute”) has filed a Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) request with the U.S. Department of the Treasury as part of an investigation into the secret  settlement payments of millions in taxpayer dollars to settle cases of sexual harassment and other forms of invidious discrimination by members of Congress and their staff over the last two decades.

CoA Institute President John J. Vecchione: “Powerful testimony, admissions by the Office of Compliance, and numerous brave women speaking out have brought to light sexual harassment and discrimination in Congress. Unfortunately, many questions remain concerning how and under what authority these settlement payments have been made. If taxpayers are footing the bill to settle complaints of misconduct, the American public should know about it.”

CoA Institute’s FOIA request seeks all records and communications relating to taxpayer funds used to settle complaints of misconduct against members of Congress and their staffs. It requests all records, including financial records, relating to settlement payments made over the past 20 years for any allegation of misconduct, including sexual harassment, racial and religious discrimination, and discrimination against people with disabilities.

The existence of settlement payments has been publicly confirmed by the congressional Office of Compliance, which stated that the funds for the payments comes from an account operated by the Treasury Department.

For information regarding this press release, please contact Zachary Kurz, Director of Communications at CoA Institute:

Senator Grassley Questions FBI Director Comey About Clinton Grand Jury Revelation made in CoA Institute Federal Records Act Litigation

Today, Senator Chuck Grassley questioned FBI Director James Comey about why the FBI revealed the information about the grand jury to us in litigation but refused to release the same information to him in response to congressional oversight.  The video of the hearing is available here; the exchange begins around the 3:09 mark.

As discussed in previous blog posts (here, here, and here), Cause of Action Institute, together with Judical Watch, is litigating a Federal Records Act case to compel the State Department and National Archives and Records Administration to perform their statutory obligations to initiate action through the Attorney General for the complete recovery of email records unlawfully removed from federal custody by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Last week, the government filed a declaration from Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) Special Agent E.W. Priestap, which revealed for the first time that the FBI had obtained grand jury subpoenas related to the Clinton email investigation.  Preistap stated: “The FBI also obtained Grand Jury subpoenas related to the Blackberry e-mail accounts, which produced no responsive materials, as the requested data was outside the retention time utilized by those providers.”

Here’s a transcript of key portions of that exchange:

Senator Chuck Grassley: Last week, the FBI filed a declaration in court pursuant to Freedom of Information Act litigation [ed. actually, it is a Federal Records Act case].  The FBI said that a grand jury issued subpoenas for Secretary Clinton’s emails.  Yet you refuse to tell this Committee whether the FBI sought or had been denied access to grand jury process from the Justice Department.  So, I think a very simple question is why does the FBI give more information to someone who files a lawsuit than to an oversight committee of Congress?  That has happened to me several times.

Director Comey: I’m not sure, Senator, whether that’s what happened here.  But you’re right, I refused to confirm in our hearings as to whether we used a grand jury and how.  I think that’s the right position.  Because I don’t know it well enough, I don’t think I can tell you . . . I don’t think I can distinguish the statements made in the FOIA case, as I sit here.

Senator Chuck Grassley: Just as a matter of proposition then!  If, I, Chuck Grassley as a private citizen file a Freedom of Information Act [request] and you give me more information than you’ll give to Senator Chuck Grassley, how do you justify that?

Director Comey:  Yeah, it’s a good question

Senator Chuck Grassley:  What do you mean it’s a good question?!  How do you justify it?!

Director Comey: It’s a good question, I can’t [justify it] as I sit here.

Senator Chuck Grassley:  Ye gods . . .

. . .

When was the grand jury convened? Was it before your first public statement about closing [the Clinton] case?

Director Comey: I’m still not in a position where I’m comfortable confirming whether and how we used a grand jury . . . in an open setting.  I don’t know enough about what was said in the FOIA case to know whether that makes my answers silly.  But I just want to be so careful about talking about grand jury matters.  So, I’m not going to answer that, sir.

In a word, yes, it does make Director Comey look silly to refuse to confirm the FBI’s use of grand jury subpoenas to Senator Grassley when the FBI has already sworn to the existence of the grand jury in federal court.

This exchange highlights one of the challenges of congressional oversight: agencies often refuse to cooperate with Congress.  That’s where CoA Institute steps in and helps bring transparency to an opaque federal government.

James Valvo is Counsel & Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute and you can follow him on Twitter @JamesValvo.

Cause of Action Institute Joins Coalition Seeking Public Release of Congressional Research Service Reports

Congress needs to stop making it so difficult to get non-confidential information. To help make this reality, Cause of Action Institute signed onto a bipartisan coalition letter asking Congress to expand public access to non-confidential documents through the Congressional Review Service (“CRS”).  Congress should direct the CRS to create a system that provides free, easy access to all members of the public.

Virtually unknown outside of the D.C. beltway, the CRS plays an instrumental role in America’s legislative process.  The service provides policy and legal analysis for members of Congress in both parties.  Some of the reports it produces are confidential, but many of them are not.  The non-confidential reports could provide much-needed insight on legislative issues.  Considering taxpayers fund the CRS to the tune of $100 million annually, the public has a right to see its work.

Currently, the CRS permits public access to some documents, but the process is not simple and people have to jump through hoops to get reports.

The Congressional Review Service has suggested that there would be complications with releasing information, such as reproducing copyrighted information, needing to engage with the public and losing speech-and–debate clause protection.  However, these arguments are unfounded because its content has been cited in numerous media reports and court decisions.

For example, over the past ten years, Congressional Review Service documents have been cited in The Washington Post 67 times and The New York Times 45 times.  Moreover, the Government Accountability Office has made clear that the work of the U.S. government is not subject to copyright protection.

Confidential information must be protected, but  the public should be able to see what its government is doing and access the same information Congress uses to make decisions.

Hundreds of Important Rules Vulnerable To Repeal Under the Congressional Review Act

The Congressional Review Act (“CRA”) provides expedited procedures for Congress to disapprove of an agency rule.  If both chambers of Congress pass a disapproval resolution and the president signs the resolution, the rule is invalidated and may not be re-promulgated in substantially the same form.  The CRA has long been viewed as a limited tool that can reach back and invalidate rules from approximately the last six months.  Todd Gaziano, of the Pacific Legal Foundation, has argued that if an agency failed to properly report a new rule to Congress as required under the CRA, the Act may be able to reach back all the way to 1996 when the CRA was enacted.  Using this theory, the current administration could trigger the CRA disapproval resolution process by submitting a report for an old rule to Congress and take advantage of the expedited congressional process.

This has set off something of a scrambledownload to identify all of the rules that were never properly submitted, and thus subject to invalidation.  We are partnering with the Pacific Legal Foundation’s Red Tape Rollback project to identify rules.

Argive, a regulatory analysis project of U.S. Common Sense, identified nearly 700 economically significant rules that were not reported to the Government Accountability Office (“GAO”) for analysis as required by the CRA.

Inspired by their work, we decided to build on it by comparing the same data against the Executive Communications database maintained by the Library of Congress.  This database includes all of the direct communications from federal agencies to the relevant congressional committees of jurisdiction.

We uncovered hundreds of important rules that appeared in the Federal Register but were not received by Congress, as required by the CRA.  Those rules are listed below:

Download our data here to view filtered by agency.


We started with the Mercatus Center’s QuantGov database for all documents published in the Federal Register from 1996 to March 14, 2017.  We filtered that dataset to “rules” that were identified as “economically significant.”

We then compared that data against the data we pulled from the Library of Congress’s list of Executive Communications.  We eliminated rules where the text in either the “document title” field or the “RIN” (regulation identifier number) field matched text in the congressional database.  The formula we used to run these comparisons was =COUNTIF(Cong.GovExCommData!A:A, “*” & [cell reference] & “*”)>0.  We also eliminated some EPA rules that were listed by that agency’s FRL numbers, as well as some duplicates.

Next, we reviewed each remaining document in the Federal Register and gave each a score from 0-3 to signify the item’s importance, with a 3 being the most important.  An item was scored as a 3 if it is a rule with national importance or interest; for example, a habitat designation under the Endangered Species Act.  An item was scored as a 2 if it was an interesting rule but that likely is of interest only to its regulated community; for example, the Farm Credit Administration’s risk-based capital requirements.  All remaining rules were given a score of 1, while notices and technical corrections were rated a 0.  This scoring system is of course subjective and is just a rough guide.  The list above it currently sorted with the most important rules at the top

We then clarified the data in the “issuing agency” and “sub agency” fields to enable researchers to filter the remaining data.


  • Our results include rules submitted to the Federal Register from 2015–2017. The Argive results are limited because the GAO database does not include reports about these recent rules.  We identified 74 unreported rules from this time period.
  • Most importantly, we compared data against the rule reports Congress actually received, not only rule reports sent to GAO. We believe this is the most relevant analysis because the 60-day time limit imposed by the CRA begins when Congress receives the report for a rule.
  • We compared our results against the Argive results and concluded we identified hundreds of important rules subject to the CRA. We also found numerous rules that were missing from both the GAO and congressional database (i.e., rules that were identified by both Argive and us).


  • The CRA covers more rules than those submitted by agencies to the Federal Register. For example, the CRA covers guidance documents and agency rules of procedure or practice, if those rules “substantially affect the rights or obligations of non-agency parties.”[1]  Our analysis does not include these rules because we started with a database that only included rules published in the Federal Register.
  • Similarly, we did not review each rule to ensure that it met the CRA’s definition of a rule, which excludes rules that set rates and prices.
  • The congressional Executive Communications database only includes rule reports sent to the Senate. To the best of our knowledge, there is no corresponding database of House communications.  This does not invalidate our results, however, because the CRA requires agencies to notify both chambers of new rules.  Therefore, even if the House received a communication identifying one of the rules on our list, the fact that the Senate did not receive a similar communication means the rule is still subject to the CRA.

We welcome feedback on these findings and methods.  You can contact me at

James Valvo is Counsel & Senior Policy Advisor at Cause of Action Institute. You can follow him on Twitter @JamesValvo.

Update: This post was updated on April 6, 2017 to include further revisions and analysis of the data.

[1] 5 U.S.C. § 804(3).