Washington, D.C. – House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.) today delivered the following remarks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of the Judgment Fund Transparency Act (H.R. 1096).
Chairman Goodlatte: In an effort to ensure prompt and equitable payment of court judgments against the United States, Congress created the Judgment Fund in 1956, which over time has become a permanent, indefinite appropriation for the payment of both court judgments and settlements. While the Judgment Fund improves efficiency by authorizing agencies to request payments directly from the Treasury Department, Congress and the public consequently has very little access to details about them. While the Treasury Department’s website maintains a publicly available database of approved payments, important details such as the claimant’s name and the claimant’s counsel aren’t listed. Without this kind of critical information, it is difficult to locate specific payments.
H.R. 1096, the Judgment Fund Transparency Act, seeks to fix this problem. Introduced by Congressman Chris Stewart of Utah earlier this year, this bill would require the Treasury Department to list on its website certain details about claims paid through the Judgment Fund unless the disclosure is prohibited by law or a court order. If the payment is made to a foreign state, the Treasury Department must also disclose: the method of payment; the currency denomination used for the payment; and the name and location of each financial institution owned or controlled by a foreign state or an agent of a foreign state through which the payment passed, from which the payment was withdrawn, or that is holding the payment.
In addition to these transparency provisions, H.R. 1096 prohibits use of the Judgment Fund for payments to state sponsors of terrorism.
Under the current Judgment Fund statute, a final judgment or settlement against the U.S. government will be paid out of the Judgment Fund as long as three conditions are met: first, payment must not be “otherwise provided for;” second, the Secretary of the Treasury must certify payment; and, third, the judgment must be payable according to one of several specified statutory provisions. These provisions provide a finite set of circumstances in which the Judgment Fund may be used. The prohibition on payments to state sponsors of terrorism provided under this bill would narrow these circumstances.
In order for Congress to properly do its job of exercising oversight over the Judgment Fund, we need to have more information about the payments. This bill responds to the increased need for Congress to retain its power over the purse and for the American people to know how their hard-earned dollars are being spent. For these reasons, I support this bill and I encourage others to do so as well.
For more on today’s markup, click here.