In a letter to Rep. Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Glen Fisher, president of the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI), commended the congresswoman for her introduction of the "Open Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA) of 2010."
"This legislation is critical to the future of a productive sheep industry in America," said Fisher. "This particularly affects the Intermountain West where land managers and operators are stalled in the bureaucratic and judicial arena by undue scrutiny of public land grazing by activist groups."
Lummis, along with Reps. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin (S.D.) and Rob Bishop (Utah), introduced the bill that seeks to re-instate oversight and transparency measures for payments made to organizations through the EAJA.
The bill, H.R. 4717, would reinstate and consolidate tracking and reporting requirements under the Department of Justice (DOJ) and would require the DOJ to publish an online, searchable database of EAJA payments that is open to the public. It would also authorize an audit of the last 15 years when EAJA operated with absolutely no oversight.
In 1980, EAJA was passed by Congress to help individuals, small businesses and non-profits with limited means seek judicial compensation against the federal government. It allows plaintiffs who sue the federal government to recover their attorney fees and costs if they prevail in the case or even settle out of court through the use of taxpayer dollars.
Government tracking of payments under EAJA stopped in 1995, and the program has been operating without any oversight for over 15 years.
According to research by a Wyoming law firm, 14 environmental groups have brought over 1,200 federal cases in 19 states and the District of Columbia and have collected over $37 million in taxpayer dollars through EAJA or other similar laws. Those numbers do not include settlements and fees sealed from public view. An independent study from Virginia Tech University discovered similar findings as a result of a comprehensive Freedom of Information Act request of five federal agencies. The Virginia Tech study also revealed that two of these agencies could provide absolutely no data on EAJA payments.
At its 2010 convention, ASI's board of directors passed a resolution supporting stringent oversight of the EAJA award process, detailed accounting and fair distribution of funds.