Equal Access to Justice Act:

Its Use in Selected Agencies

HEHS-98-58R: Published: Jan 14, 1998. Publicly Released: Feb 4, 1998.

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Carlotta C. Joyner
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Pursuant to congressional request, GAO reviewed the: (1) historical and legislative background of the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA); (2) government-wide use of the EAJA; and (3) applicability of other fee-shifting statutes.

GAO noted that: (1) EAJA was intended to reimburse individuals and small businesses with limited resources for attorneys' fees and other expenses when they prevail in both administrative and judicial proceedings involving the federal government, when the action by the government cannot be substantially justified; (2) from its inception in fiscal year (FY) 1982 through FY 1994, more than 6,200 applicants were awarded about $34 million under EAJA's administrative and judicial processes for reimbursement of attorneys' fees and related expenses; (3) of the $34 million, applications involving the Social Security Administration accounted for at least 83 percent of the claims granted and 48 percent of the amounts awarded; (4) EAJA cases may involve a wide range of issues, such as claims for benefits related to disability, concerns regarding occupational safety and health, or allegations of unfair labor practices by companies, unions, or employees; (5) from FY 1982 through FY 1997, at the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), 59 applicants received about $1.5 million in attorneys' fees and related expenses; at the Department of Labor (DOL), 74 applicants were awarded about $700,000; and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), 1 applicant was awarded $264,328; (6) at NLRB, no fee-shifting statutes other than EAJA apply to proceedings it administers; (7) however, at DOL, eight other fee-shifting laws apply specifically to its proceedings, and at EEOC, four other fee-shifting statutes apply to its proceedings; and (8) this does not include fee-shifting statutes of general applicability, such as the Freedom of Information Act.

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