Federal reports: Gathering dust, per Congress’s order

The 113th Congress doesn’t lack for reading material. As The Washington Post recently reported, members can look forward to the annual report on the state of Little League baseball, the report detailing the Social Security Administration’s printing operations, and the report that summarizes “all pertinent public information relating to minerals in Alaska.” When they’ve digested those, they can move on to the six Defense Department reports dealing with Utah, the nine-page “Dog and Cat Fur Protection” report, the report on the proceedings of the national encampment of the United Spanish War Veterans, and the “Scientific Assessment of Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms.”

Those reports are all mandated by federal law, and they aren’t even the tip of the iceberg. According to the Post, the current Congress is expecting 4,291 reports, to be submitted in writing by 466 US government agencies and federally chartered nonprofit organizations. How much these reports cost is anyone’s guess: The last reliable estimate in 1993, when only 3,500 reports were required, put the total at more than $100 million.

Some government reports are widely consulted, such as those on the status of Medicare and Social Security. Yet even reports that no one reads take time and effort to prepare. Creating that yearly report on dog and cat fur protection, which Congress mandated as part of a 2000 law banning the import of products made from pet pelts, requires at least 15 employees, in six different federal offices. It is eventually distributed to seven different congressional committees, none of which has the slightest interest in it.


Though lawmakers complain of being inundated with reports, they keep requiring more. Periodically, there’s pushback: In 2012, the Obama administration suggested doing away with 269 reports, which would bring the total down to a little over 4,000. Congress wouldn’t go that far, but last month the House approved a bill to eliminate 79 of the unnecessary reports. Surely lawmakers can agree on at least that.