Sources for Finding Mandated Reports to Congress by U.S. Federal Agencies
Part of the research materials on LLSDC's Legislative Source Book
By statute, Congress requires Federal executive departments and independent agencies as well as the President and parts of the Legislative and Judicial Branches to produce and submit to it several thousand reports. These mandates are usually specific to a particular agency, but a few are general and apply to most agencies such as the Inspector General Act (5 USC App.), the Congressional Review Act (5 USC § 801 et seq.), the Government Performance and Results Act (5 USC § 306), the Buy American Act (41 USC § 8302), and the No FEAR Act (5 USC § 2301 note). Unless specified by statute, most of the reports are sent to the Speaker of the House and the President pro tempore of the Senate. Some reports are mandated annually or another specified length of time and some are one time reports or have other cessation time frames. Many recurring reports may be incorporated into an agency's annual report to Congress. The following sites and descriptions convey sources for finding information about these reports or for actually obtaining them. Various proposed legislation would require the Public Printer to establish and maintain a public website that would make available electronic copies of congressionally mandated reports, including H.R. 5876, introduced by Rep. Quigley in the 114th Congress; H.R. 1380, introduced by Rep. Quigley, D-IL, in the 113th Congress; S. 1411, introduced by Sen. Lieberman, I-CT, in the 112th Congress; H.R. 1974, introduced by Rep. Quigley, D-IL, in the 112th Congress; and H.R. 6026, introduced by Rep. Driehaus, D-OH, in the 111th Congress.
United States Code and U.S. Public Laws - Until March of 2004, most all of the statutory provisions regarding mandated reports were included in the U.S. Code. Even one-time reports would be placed in the note area of a related section of the U.S. Code by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel. Now, however, unless a U.S. Code title is directly amended, only continually required reports are included in the U.S. Code, as the publishers of the Code are only required to set out general and "permanent" U.S. laws (see 1 U.S.C. § 204). After February of 2004 (beginning with Public Law 108-203), non-recurring statutorily required reports can be found in specific public laws. Thus a search within a U.S. Code or U.S. Public Laws database for specific words (“report,” “shall submit,” “Buy American,” etc.) should uncover a report’s statutory mandate.
Federal Reports and Elimination Sunset Act of 1995 (Pub. L. 104-66) stipulates that four years after its enactment, all the required reports listed in H. Doc. 103-07, Reports to Be Made to Congress, would no longer have to be submitted, unless Congress required their continuance by another specific statute. Effective on May 15, 2000 (extended from the original effective date of Dec. 21, 1999) some 500 listed reports no longer had to be submitted to Congress. However, most of these reports are still listed in the annual "Reports to Be Made to Congress" as their underlying statutes have not been repealed. Applicable notes to sections in the U.S. Code stipulate when a mandated report in that section is no longer required. Searching for the date "May 15, 2000" in the note area of a U.S. Code section will generally identify a report that is no longer required under this law.
Government Accountability Office (GAO) - The GAO, formerly called the General Accounting Office, is the audit, evaluation and investigative arm of Congress. Established in 1921, the GAO produces hundreds of reports each year, many of them required by statute. Nearly all of these reports, past and present, have now been digitized by GAO and made available on its Website in PDF.
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) - The CBO is a support agency of Congress that provides economic data and projections on proposed legislation and on Federal government programs. CBO is often required by statute to perform cost estimate studies on various proposed or operating programs. Most of these studies can be found on the CBO Website back to 1975.
Reports to Be Made to Congress is an annual listing by agency of reports to Congress and the statutory provisions mandating them, that require that reports be submitted to Congress prepared under the direction of the Clerk of the House. The list of reports and their statutory provisions, although prodigious in length, is not complete and also contains many reports that are no longer required to be made (sunsetted by another statute). The annual publication, prepared since 1983 (98th Congress), is published as a House Document and can be found from 1995 (104th Congress) in PDF on GPO's FDsys and GPO Access databases (minus those from the 105th Congress) as well as in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. The digitized editions are not searchable. Each edition is divided into seven parts: Part I - Reports by Legislative Branch; Part II - Reports by Judicial Branch; Part III - Reports by President of the United States; Part IV - Reports by Cabinet-Level Departments; Part V - Reports by Each Executive Office and Cabinet-Level Department; Part VI - Reports by Independent Agencies, Boards, and Commissions; and Part VII - Reports by Federally Chartered Private Corporations. Each entry listed includes the nature of the report, the specific authority citation in a public law or the U.S. Code, and when the report is expected to be made.
Popular Names of U.S. Government Reports - This Library of Congress publication lists U.S. government reports by popular name and sets out full catalog entries for each report. The reports listed were generally mandated by law, by Congressional resolution, or by Presidential order. The above link is to the 1984 fourth edition, long out of print, which thankfully has been digitized by Indiana University Libraries, Bloomington. The University has also added later reports and other references to the digitized edition. This is an invaluable publication as many reports are generally known by their popular name (such as the last name of a commission’s chairman - Aldrich Commission, Hoover Commission, McGovern Report, Warren Commission, etc. ) not their official name.
Executive Communications, Etc. is the area in the House proceedings of the daily Congressional Record listing all communications received from Federal agencies (usually a week or more after being sent by an agency). This is the most comprehensive listing available but also contains a considerable amount of communications not pertaining to agency reports (letters of authorization for new army generals, letters on export licenses issued, letters transmitting treaties, letters transmitting agency regulations for approval, etc.). In addition the area may lack reports sent directly to Committee chairs but not to the Speaker of the House as well. Each communication is numbered consecutively within a Congress (2 years). The last communication listed in the House proceedings at the end of the first session of the 111th Congress on December 23, 2009 was numbered 5198. The above link is to the heading (title) "Executive Communications, Etc." in the Congressional Record on GPO's FDsys since January 1, 2010. The heading has been in use in the Congressional Record since 1899, before that time, the phrase “Executive Communications” was generally used.
Executive and Other Communications is the area in the Senate proceedings of the daily Congressional Record listing all communications received from Federal agencies. The list does not appear to contain all the communications listed in the House proceedings and the two lists do not match one another on the same day. The section also uses the phrase "report of a rule" and thus may retrieve many unrelated items in a search in the area for the word "report." As in the House chamber, executive communications received in the Senate are also numbered consecutively within a Congress, but the letters “EC“ are appended before the number. On December 23, 2009, the last day of the first session of the 111th Congress, the last communication listed for that year was EC-4167. The above link is to the heading (title) "Executive and Other Communications" in the Congressional Record on GPO's FDsys since January 1, 2010. The heading (title) "Executive and Other Communications" has been in use in the Senate proceedings from 1979 out, before that time the phrase “Communications from Executive Departments, etc.” and “Executive Communications” were generally used.
Congressional Record Index - This index to the House and Senate proceedings of each Congressional session has been a part of the Congressional Record series since it began in 1873. There have also been indices to the predecessor publications to the Congressional Record including the Congressional Globe, the Register of Debates, and the Annals of Congress. The indices include the list of communications (or letters of transmittal and/or reports) from Federal agencies received in the Congress. Before the 1994 Congressional Record Index the list of communications were organized by agency and often cited an assigned House or Senate report or document number to the published report, however since that time, all the communications are listed under the heading “Executive Communications” and then by agency with both the Senate and House communications laid out. Beginning with the 2003 Index, only the agency, page number, date, and executive communication number are set out with no information as to the subject matter. The above link to the Congressional Record Index is to the digitized daily edition of the Index on GPO’s Fdsys service from 1983 (98th Congress) to the present.
U.S. Congressional Serial Set - The Serial Set contains all House and Senate numbered reports and documents from 1817 to the present. In the document series are included nearly all executive agency annual reports from 1817 to 1976 as well as many other reports that may have been mandated by law or by Congressional resolution. Currently, except for the Economic Report of the President, the U.S. Budget, and the annual report of the Social Security Trust Fund, very few executive agency reports have been included in the Serial Set. The above link is to the collection on GPO.gov which contains reports and documents from the 104th Congress (1995-1996) to the present. GPO.gov also has a digitized Numerical List of Documents and Reports from 85th Congress (1957-1958) to the present with assigned Serial Set volume numbers laid out.
A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774-1875 - This Library of Congress Website contains the early (1789-1875) statutes, debates, bills, journals, documents and reports of the United States Congress. Especially relevant are indices to these publications that may refer to mandated reports to Congress. Important as well are the American State Papers series (1789-1838) and the U.S. Serial Set series (1817-1917) which contain the actual documents and reports published by Congress, some of which were Congressionally mandated Commission reports and other investigations. Unfortunately, the U.S. Serial Set series on this site contains only a few selected reports and documents, among hundreds, during each Congress.
House and Senate Committees - The reports received by Congress (usually sent to the Speaker of the House and the President of the Senate) may be referred to the appropriate Senate or House standing committee. However, trying to get a copy of the report from the receiving committee is frequently a futile endeavor as Congressional committees normally receive only a single copy of an executive report and a committee may not maintain a complete inventory of the reports it has received, especially for reports received in prior Congresses. In any case, you will probably be referred to the agency which wrote the report.
Contacting Your Member of Congress - You may contact the office of your U.S. Senator or U.S. Representative and ask to obtain a particular report that may be elusive, as Congressional committees usually refer such queries to the agency responsible for its content. However, a query from the office of a member of Congress may add weight to a request for a report from either a Congressional committee or a Federal agency.
Federal Agency Web Sites - Each Federal agency is likely to have its annual report on its Web site as well as many other reports sent to Congress. Such web sites are generally not comprehensive. An agency site index or search engine could be used to find these publications.
Federal Agency Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Offices - Each agency’s Freedom of Information Act Office can be requested to provide reports not made available on its Web site, subject to certain statutory exemptions. Federal agency Web sites will generally include FOIA information and frequently allow you to send a request by e-mail. Certain fees may also apply. Under FOIA, agencies are mandated to reply to requests within 20 business days, and it is helpful to give them as much specific information as possible.
Federal Agency Congressional Liaison Offices - Most of the agency reports to Congress are sent through an agency's Congressional liaison office (or legislative affairs office). These offices often track their agency reports sent to Congress and may be able to identify a report’s existence and title. Callers may be immediately referred to an agency’s FOIA office, but Congressional liaison offices may also be able to supply the report directly or furnish additional information on how to do so.
Federal Agency Libraries - Many reports to Congress (particularly those before 1996, the beginning of the Internet age) may be cataloged and available for inter-library loan or for viewing and copying in agency libraries. The above related link is to Federal agency libraries in the D.C. area with law collections, but also links to the principal or other library of an agency.
Proquest CIS Index (formerly LexisNexis) to Hearings, Reports, Documents, and Committee Prints (1970 to Present and Pre-1970 Historical Indices). The Congressional Information Service (CIS) indices (recently purchased by Proquest) contain abstracts of nearly all Congressional hearings, reports, documents and committee prints produced by Congress. As noted above, annual and other reports of executive branch agencies were frequently published before the 1980s as Congressional documents. Many other studies pursuant to law or Congressional resolution were published as or in Congressional reports, documents, hearings, and committee prints. The hard copy and online CIS indices are helpful in obtaining information about these reports and studies. Also, these reports and studies may be available from CIS on microfiche as well as in PDF as part of the Proquest Congressional digital collection.
Proquest U.S. Serial Set Digital Collection (1789-1969) available for purchase or subscription, contains the digital presentation and indexing to this series’ thousands of published reports and documents from Congress over last two centuries, many of which were Congressionally mandated studies and reports.
Readex - The U.S. Congressional Serial Set (1817-1994), available for purchase, contains the near complete digital presentation and indexing to this series’ thousands of published reports and documents from Congress over last two centuries, many of which were Congressionally mandated studies and reports.
Reports Required by Congress (1994-2002) is an annual index ($700 each) with related microfiche ($5510 each) by Proquest in its series on Executive Branch Documents. Certain academic and other libraries may have already purchased this collection. The series only covers the nine year period indicated.
Compiled and maintained by Rick McKinney, Assistant Law Librarian, Federal Reserve Board Law Library and Ellen Sweet, Legislative Reference Specialist, Tax Division, Department of Justice.
in Memoriam: Mimi Vollstedt. She inspired the writing of this web page on mandated reports while serving as the Legislative Librarian at the Department of Justice Main Library.
Please email your questions or comments to the Legislative SIS.
Last updated on September 20, 2016.