57 FR 33268, July 28, 1992, unless otherwise noted.
(a) Act means the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. 504, as amended.
(b) Adjudicative officer means the official, without regard to whether the official is designated as a hearing examiner, administrative law judge, administrative judge, or otherwise, who presided at the adversary adjudication.
(c) Adversary adjudication means:
(1) An adjudication under 5 U.S.C. 554 in which the position of the United States is represented by counsel or otherwise, but not including an adjudication for the purpose of establishing or fixing a rate or for the purpose of granting or renewing a license; and
(d) Agency counsel means:
(1) When the position of the Office is being represented, the attorney or attorneys designated by the Office's General Counsel to represent the Office in a proceeding covered by this part; and
(2) When the position of another agency of the United States is being represented, the representative or representatives as designated by that agency.
(e) Office means the United States Office of Government Ethics, or the organizational unit within the Office responsible for conducting an adversary adjudication subject to this part.
(f) Proceeding means an adversary adjudication as defined above.
(g) Director means the Director of the United States Office of Government Ethics.
The Act provides for the award of attorney fees and other expenses to eligible individuals and entities who are parties to certain administrative proceedings (“adversary adjudications”) before the Office of Government Ethics. An eligible party may receive an award when it prevails over the Office, unless the Office's position in the proceeding was substantially justified or special circumstances make an award unjust. An eligible party may also receive an award when the demand of the Office is substantially in excess of the decision in the adversary adjudication and is unreasonable when compared with such decision, under the facts and circumstances of the case, unless the party has committed a willful violation of law or otherwise acted in bad faith or special circumstances make an award unjust. The rules in this part describe the parties eligible for awards and the proceedings that are covered. They also explain how to apply for awards, and the procedures and standards that the Office will use to make them.
The Act applies to any adversary adjudication pending or commenced before the Office of Government Ethics on or after October 1, 1989, which is the date the Office became a separate executive agency. Prior to October 1, 1989, the Office was part of the Office of Personnel Management. Any adversary adjudication pending or commenced before October 1, 1989, and not finally disposed of by that date, is governed by the rules and policies implementing the Equal Access to Justice Act as adopted by the Office of Personnel Management.
(a) This part applies to adversary administrative adjudications conducted by the Office of Government Ethics. When all other conditions in the Act and in these rules are met, the types of proceedings to which this part applies are adversary administrative adjudications conducted by the Office under:
(1) The Debt Collection Act of 1982, 5 U.S.C. 5514;
(3) The Ethics in Government Act of 1978, section 402(f)(2), 5 U.S.C. app., and subpart E of part 2638 of this chapter.
(b) The Office's failure to identify a type of proceeding as an adversary adjudication shall not preclude the filing of an application by a party who believes the proceeding is covered by the Act; whether the proceeding is covered will then be an issue for resolution in the proceedings on the application.
(c) If a proceeding includes both matters covered by the Act and matters specifically excluded from coverage, any award made will include only fees and expenses related to covered matters.
(a) To be eligible for an award of attorney fees and other expenses under the Act, the applicant must be a party to the adversary adjudication for which it seeks an award. The term “party” is defined in 5 U.S.C. 551(3). The applicant must show that it meets all conditions of eligibility set out in this subpart and in subpart B of this part.
(b) The types of eligible applicants are as follows:
(1) An individual with a net worth of not more than $2,000,000;
(2) The sole owner of an unincorporated business who has a net worth of not more than $7,000,000, including both personal and business interests, and not more than 500 employees;
(3) A charitable or other tax-exempt organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code, 26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3), with not more than 500 employees;
(4) A cooperative association as defined in section 15(a) of the Agricultural Marketing Act, 12 U.S.C. 1141j(a), with not more than 500 employees;
(5) Any other partnership, corporation, association, unit of local government, or organization with a net worth of not more than $7,000,000 and not more than 500 employees; and
(c) For the purpose of eligibility, the net worth and number of employees of an applicant shall be determined as of the date the underlying proceeding was initiated. For appeals of decisions of contracting officers made pursuant to section 6 of the Contracts Disputes Act of 1978, the net worth and number of employees of an applicant shall be determined as of the date the applicant filed its appeal under 41 U.S.C. 606.
(d) An applicant who owns an unincorporated business will be considered as an “individual” rather than a “sole owner of an unincorporated business” if the issues on which the applicant prevails are related primarily to personal interests rather than to business interests.
(e) The employees of an applicant include all persons who regularly perform services for remuneration for the applicant, under the applicant's direction and control. Part-time employees shall be included on a proportional basis.
(f) The net worth and number of employees of the applicant and all of its affiliates shall be aggregated to determine eligibility. An individual, corporation or other entity that directly or indirectly controls or owns a majority of the voting shares or other interests of the applicant, or any corporation or other entity of which the applicant directly or indirectly owns or controls a majority of the voting shares or other interest, will be considered an affiliate for purposes of this part, unless the adjudicative officer determines that such treatment would be unjust and contrary to the purposes of the Act in light of the actual relationship between the affiliated entities. In addition, the adjudicative officer may determine that financial relationships of the applicant other than those described in this paragraph constitute special circumstances that would make an award unjust.
(g) An applicant that participates in a proceeding primarily on behalf of one or more other persons or entities that would be ineligible is not itself eligible for an award.
(a) A prevailing applicant may receive an award for fees and expenses incurred in connection with a proceeding or in a significant and discrete substantive portion of the proceeding, unless the position of the Office was substantially justified. The position of the Office includes, in addition to the position taken by the Office in the adversary adjudication, the action or failure to act by the Office upon which the adversary adjudication is based. The burden of proof that an award should not be made to an eligible prevailing applicant because the Office's position was substantially justified is on the Office. No presumption arises that the Office's position was not substantially justified simply because the Office did not prevail.
(b) If, in a proceeding arising from an Office action to enforce an applicant's compliance with a statutory or regulatory requirement, the demand of the Office is substantially in excess of the decision in the proceeding and is unreasonable when compared with that decision under the facts and circumstances of the case, the applicant shall be awarded the fees and other expenses related to defending against the excessive demand, unless the applicant has committed a willful violation of law or otherwise acted in bad faith or special circumstances make an award unjust. The burden of proof that the demand of the Office is substantially in excess of the decision and is unreasonable when compared with such decision is on the applicant. As used in this paragraph, “demand” means the express demand of the Office which led to the adversary adjudication, but it does not include a recitation by the Office of the maximum statutory penalty in the administrative complaint, or elsewhere when accompanied by an express demand for a lesser amount. Fees and expenses awarded under this paragraph shall be paid only as a consequence of appropriations provided in advance.
(c) Awards for fees and expenses incurred before the date on which a proceeding was initiated will be made only if the applicant can demonstrate that they were reasonably incurred in preparation for the proceeding.
(d) An award under this part will be reduced or denied if the Office's position was substantially justified in law and fact, if the applicant has unduly or unreasonably protracted the proceeding, if the applicant has falsified the application (including documentation) or net worth exhibit, or if special circumstances make the award unjust.
(a) Awards will be based on rates customarily charged by persons engaged in the business of acting as attorneys, agents and expert witnesses, even if the services were made available without charge or at reduced rate to the applicant.
(b) Except as provided in § 2610.108, no award for the fee of an attorney or agent under these rules may exceed $125.00 per hour. No award to compensate an expert witness may exceed the highest rate at which the Office pays expert witnesses. However, an award may also include the reasonable expenses of the attorney, agency, or witness as a separate item, if the attorney, agent or witness ordinarily charges clients separately for such expenses.
(c) In determining the reasonableness of the fee sought for an attorney, agent or expert witness, the adjudicative officer shall consider the following:
(1) If the attorney, agent or witness is in private practice, his or her customary fees for similar services, or, if an employee of the applicant, the fully allocated costs of the services;
(2) The prevailing rate for similar services in the community in which the attorney, agent or witness ordinarily performs services;
(3) The time actually spent in the representation of the applicant;
(4) The time reasonably spent in light of the difficulty or complexity of the issues in the proceeding; and
(5) Such other factors as may bear on the value of the services provided.
(d) The reasonable cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test, project or similar matter prepared on behalf of a party may be awarded, to the extent that the charge for the services does not exceed the prevailing rate for similar services, and the study or other matter was necessary for preparation of applicant's case.
(a) If warranted by an increase in the cost of living or by special circumstances (such as limited availability of attorneys or agents qualified to handle certain types of proceedings), the Office may adopt regulations providing that attorney or agent fees may be awarded at a rate higher than $125.00 per hour in some or all of the types of proceedings covered by this part. The Office will conduct any rulemaking proceedings for this purpose under the informal rulemaking procedures of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. 553.
(b) Any person may file with the Office a petition for rulemaking to increase the maximum rate for attorney or agent fees as provided in 5 U.S.C. 504(b)(1)(A)(ii). The petition should identify the rate the petitioner believes the Office should establish and the types of proceedings in which the rate should be used. It should also explain fully the reasons why the higher rate is warranted. The Office will respond to the petition within 60 days after it is filed, by initiating a rulemaking proceeding, denying the petition, or taking other appropriate action.
If an applicant is entitled to an award because it prevails over another agency of the United States that participates in a proceeding before the Office of Government Ethics and takes a position that is not substantially justified, the award or an appropriate portion of the award shall be made against that agency.
(a) An application for an award of fees and expenses under the Act shall identify the applicant and the proceeding for which an award is sought. Unless the applicant is an individual, the application shall further state the number of employees of the applicant and describe briefly the type and purpose of its organization or business. The application shall also:
(1) Show that the applicant has prevailed and identify the position of the Office in the proceeding that the applicant alleges was not substantially justified; or
(2) Show that the demand by the Office in the proceeding was substantially in excess of, and was unreasonable when compared with, the decision in the proceeding.
(b) The application shall also include, for purposes of § 2610.106 (a) or (b), a statement that the applicant's net worth does not exceed $2,000,000 (for individuals) or $7,000,000 (for all other applicants, including their affiliates) or alternatively, for purposes of § 2610.106(b) only, a declaration that the applicant is a small entity as defined in 5 U.S.C. 601. However, an applicant may omit the statement concerning its net worth if:
(1) It attaches a copy of a ruling by the Internal Revenue Service that it qualifies as an organization described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)) or, in the case of a tax-exempt organization not required to obtain a ruling from the Internal Revenue Service on its exempt status, a statement that describes the basis for the applicant's belief that it qualifies under such section; or
(2) It states that it is a cooperative association as defined in section 15(a) of the Agricultural Marketing Act (12 U.S.C. 1141j(a)).
(c) The application shall state the amount of fees and expenses for which an award is sought.
(d) The application may also include any other matters that the applicant wishes the Office to consider in determining whether and in what amount an award should be made.
(e) The application shall be signed by the applicant or an authorized officer or attorney of the applicant. It shall also contain or be accompanied by a written verification made by the applicant or authorized officer or attorney of the applicant under oath or under penalty of perjury that the information provided in the application is true and correct.
(f) These collections of information are not subject to Office of Management and Budget review under the Paperwork Reduction Act (44 U.S.C. chapter 35) because they are expected to involve nine or fewer persons each year.
(a) Each applicant, except a qualified tax-exempt organization or cooperative association, must provide with its application a detailed exhibit showing the net worth of the applicant and any affiliates (as defined in § 2610.105(f)) when the underlying adversary adjudication was initiated. The exhibit may be in any form convenient to the applicant that provides full disclosure of the applicant's and its affiliates' assets and liabilities and is sufficient to determine whether the applicant qualifies under the standards in this part. The adjudicative officer may require an applicant to file additional information to determine its eligibility for an award.
(b) Ordinarily, the net worth exhibit will be included in the public record of the proceeding. However, an applicant that objects to public disclosure of information in any portion of the exhibit and believes there are legal grounds for withholding it from disclosure may submit that portion of the exhibit directly to the adjudicative officer in a sealed envelope labeled “Confidential Financial Information,” accompanied by a motion to withhold the information from public disclosure. The motion shall describe the information sought to be withheld and explain, in detail, why it falls within one or more of the specific exemptions from mandatory disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act, 5 U.S.C. 552(b)(1)-(9), why public disclosure of the information would adversely affect the applicant, and why disclosure is not required in the public interest. The material in question shall be served on counsel representing the Office, but need not be served on any other party to the proceeding, if any. If the adjudicative officer finds that the information should not be withheld from disclosure, it shall be placed in the public record of the proceeding. Otherwise, any request by another party or the public to inspect or copy the exhibit shall be resolved in accordance with the Office of Government Ethics' established procedures under the Freedom of Information Act.
The application shall be accompanied by full and itemized documentation of the fees and expenses, including the cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test, project or similar matter, for which an award is sought. A separate itemized statement shall be submitted for each professional firm or individual whose services are covered by the application, showing the hours spent in connection with the proceeding by each individual, a description of the specific services performed, the rates at which each fee has been computed, any expenses for which reimbursement is sought, the total amount claimed, and the total amount paid or payable by the applicant or by any other person or entity for the services provided. The adjudicative officer may require the applicant to provide vouchers, receipts, logs, or other documentation for any fees or expenses claimed, pursuant to § 2610.306.
(a) An application may be filed whenever the applicant has prevailed in the proceeding or in a significant and discrete substantive portion of the proceeding. An application may also be filed when the demand of the Office is substantially in excess of the decision in the proceeding and is unreasonable when compared with such decision. In no case may an application be filed later than 30 days after the Office of Government Ethics' final disposition of the proceeding.
(b) For purposes of this rule, final disposition means the date on which a decision or order disposing of the merits of the proceeding or any other complete resolution of the proceeding, such as a settlement or voluntary dismissal, becomes final and unappealable, both within the Office and to the courts.
(c) If review or reconsideration is sought or taken of a decision as to which an applicant believes it has prevailed or has been subjected to a demand from the Office substantially in excess of the decision in the adversary adjudication and unreasonable when compared to that decision, proceedings for the award of fees shall be stayed pending final disposition of the underlying controversy. When the United States appeals the underlying merits of an adversary adjudication to a court, no decision on an application for fees and other expenses in connection with that adversary adjudication shall be made until a final and unreviewable decision is rendered by the court on the appeal or until the underlying merits of the case have been finally determined pursuant to the appeal.
Any provision in the Office's rules and regulations other than this part which limits or terminates the jurisdiction of an adjudicative officer upon the effective date of his or her decision in the underlying proceeding shall not in any way affect his or her jurisdiction to render a decision under this part.
Any application for an award or other pleading or document related to an application shall be filed and served on all parties to the proceeding in the same manner as other pleadings in the proceeding, except as provided in § 2610.202(b) for confidential financial information.
(a) Within 30 days after service of an application, counsel representing the Office may file an answer to the application. Agency counsel may request an extension of time for filing. If agency counsel fails to answer or otherwise fails to contest or settle the application within the 30-day period, the adjudicative officer, upon a satisfactory showing of entitlement by the applicant, may make an award for the applicant's fees and other expenses under the Act.
(b) If agency counsel and the applicant believe that the issues in the fee application can be settled, they may jointly file a statement of their intent to negotiate a settlement. The filing of this statement shall extend the time for filing an answer for an additional 30 days, and further extensions may be granted for good cause by the adjudicative officer upon request by agency counsel and the applicant.
(c) The answer shall explain in detail any objections to the award requested and identify the facts relied on in support of agency counsel's position. If the answer is based on any alleged facts not already in the record of the proceeding, agency counsel shall include with the answer either supporting affidavits or a request for further proceedings under § 2610.307.
Within 15 days after service of an answer, the applicant may file a reply. If the reply is based on any alleged facts not already in the record of the proceeding, the applicant shall include with the reply either supporting affidavits or a request for further proceedings under § 2610.307.
Any party to a proceeding other than the applicant and agency counsel may file comments on an application within 30 days after it is served, or on an answer within 15 days after it is served. A commenting party may not participate further in proceedings on the application unless the adjudicative officer determines that the public interest requires such participation in order to permit full exploration of matters raised in the comments.
The applicant and agency counsel may agree on a proposed settlement of the award before final action on the application, either in connection with a settlement of the underlying proceeding, or after the underlying proceeding has been concluded, in accordance with the settlement procedure applicable to the underlying procedure. If an eligible prevailing party and agency counsel agree on a proposed settlement of an award before an application has been filed, the application shall be filed with the proposed settlement.
(a) Ordinarily, the determination of an award will be made on the basis of the written record. However, on request of either the applicant or agency counsel, or on his or her own initiative, the adjudicative officer may order further proceedings, such as an informal conference, oral argument, additional written submissions or, as to issues other than substantial justification (such as the applicant's eligibility or substantiation of fees and expenses), pertinent discovery or an evidentiary hearing. Such further proceedings shall be held only when necessary for full and fair resolution of the issues arising from the application, and shall be conducted as promptly as possible. Whether or not the position of the Office was substantially justified shall be determined on the basis of the administrative record, as a whole, which is made in the adversary adjudication for which fees and other expenses are sought.
(b) A request that the adjudicative officer order further proceedings under this section shall specifically identify the information sought or the disputed issues and shall explain why the additional proceedings are necessary to resolve the issues.
The adjudicative officer shall issue an initial decision on the application within 30 days after completion of proceedings on the application. The decision shall include written findings and conclusions on the applicant's eligibility and status as a prevailing party, and an explanation of the reasons for any difference between the amount requested and the amount awarded. The decision shall also include, if at issue, findings on whether the Office's position was substantially justified, whether the applicant unduly protracted the proceedings, or whether special circumstances make an award unjust. If the applicant has sought an award against more than one agency, the decision shall allocate responsibility for payment of any award made among the agencies, and shall explain the reasons for the allocation made.
Within 30 days after issuance of an initial decision under this part, either the applicant or agency counsel may seek review of the initial decision on the fee application, or the Director (or his or her designee) may decide to review the initial decision on his or her own initiative, in accordance with the Office's review or appeal procedures applicable to the underlying proceeding. If neither the applicant nor agency counsel seeks review and the Director (or designee) does not take review on his or her own initiative, the initial decision on the application shall become a final decision of the Office of Government Ethics 30 days after it is issued. Whether to review a decision is a matter within the discretion of the Director (or his or her designee, if any). If review is taken, the Office will issue a final decision on the application or remand the application to the adjudicative officer for further proceedings.
Judicial review of final agency decisions on awards may be sought as provided in 5 U.S.C. 504(c)(2).
An applicant seeking payment of an award shall submit a copy of the Office's final decision granting the award, accompanied by a certification that the applicant will not seek review of the decision in the United States courts, to the Associate Director for Administration, Office of Government Ethics, Suite 500, 1201 New York Avenue NW., Washington, DC 20005-3917. The Office will pay the amount awarded to the applicant within 60 days, unless judicial review of the award or of the underlying decision of the adversary adjudication has been sought by the applicant, the Office, or any other party to the proceedings.