Thursday, January 14, 2010

Just in from Washington


Karen Budd-Falen addresses the Rangeland Congress on Wednesday in Boise--Putnam photo
WLA calls for openess in government requests audit of EAJA
MORELAND–In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and President Barack Obama, the Western Legacy Alliance applauded the President's call for transparency and requested a formal audit of the Equal Access to Justice Act based upon the initial findings of a private audit commissioned by the WLA and conducted by Budd-Falen Law Offices over a six month period of time.

The WLA and Karen Budd-Falen wanted to know how much money the federal government has paid to environmental law firms. According to Budd-Falen’s research, in the past 10 years, 1,500 cases have been filed by environmental groups against federal agencies. In addition, she has found nearly 35 million in payouts, and uncovered more than $4.7 billion in taxpayer money that the government paid to environmental law firms between 2003 and 2007; representing an average of $940 million a year, compared to $922 million spent directly on the 986 endangered and threatened species, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s annual report. Budd-Falen has created a chart outlining the number of lawsuits filed on behalf of numerous environmental organizations and special interest groups and the disbursements associated with each, which can be found at: http://www.responsetrack.net/lnk/bit/17z0i/?15MSU002JEE.

On his first day in office, President Obama signed a memorandum to all federal agencies directing them to break down barriers to transparency, participation, and collaboration between the federal government and the people it serves. Responding to that instruction, a reminder memorandum was issued earlier this month by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) clearly directing “executive departments and agencies to take specific actions to implement the principles set forth in the President’s Memorandum.” A full copy of the memo can be found at: http://www.responsetrack.net/lnk/whitehouse/17z0j/?15MSU002JEE.

“The Western Legacy Alliance couldn’t be happier with the recent focus and push for accountability, openness and collaboration within the Federal Government. We applaud the efforts of this administration,” said Jeff Faulkner, WLA member. “Abuse of the EAJA and other federal funds has gone on for far too long. Currently, there is no accountability or reporting requirements, making it unclear how many millions or billions have been paid out. Our research has found nearly 35 million in federal payouts, but that appears to be just a glimpse of the problem.”

According to the memorandum, the three principles of transparency, participation, and collaboration form the cornerstone of an open government. The memorandum continues to note that “…transparency promotes accountability by providing the public with information about what the Government is doing. Participation allows members of the public to contribute ideas and expertise… Collaboration improves the effectiveness of Government by encouraging partnerships and cooperation within the Federal Government, across levels of government, and between the Government and private institutions.”

The WLA is working to highlight these problems and ensure equal application of EAJA across the board in conjunction with educating the public and the nation’s elected officials and demanding prompt action to ensure appropriate use and reporting of taxpayer dollars from federal programs.

Members of Congress are taking note. On November 2, 2009 members of the Congressional Western Caucus sent an open letter to the U.S. Department of Justice expressing concern to Attorney General Holder regarding the ongoing and apparent abuse of the EAJA by certain organizations including environmental and special interest groups. The Caucus highlighted the complete lack of oversight, accountability, and transparency in the overall process and allocation of funds under EAJA, which appears to have contributed to the ongoing abuse.

In addition, the Caucus requested an explanation from the DOJ regarding how the Department tracks EAJA disbursements, and if no such tracking exists the Caucus asked that a central, searchable EAJA database be created under the direction and responsibility of the DOJ.

“The WLA is encouraged that the Open Government Directive establishes deadlines for action and hope that the DOJ and Attorney General Holder will respond to the requests of the Western Caucus and begin to seriously take note of the ongoing abuse of the EAJA as well as other federal funds,” continued Faulkner.

The WLA plans to assist the Congressional Western Caucus with legislative solutions calling for EAJA transparency as well as continuing to educate the public on the abuses that jeopardize the local economies of the West.

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