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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

House to Consider Federal Spending Database Proposal

Looks like the House will consider a proposal directing the U.S. Office of Management and Budget to establish a publicly accessible database of all federal spending. The proposal was previously approved by the House Government Operations Committee and will go to the House floor sometime during the coming week, according to knowledgable congressional sources.

Rep. Tom Davis, R-VA, who chairs the House committee, and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-MO, are the prime sponsors of the measure, which is similar to one originated in the Senate by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-OK. Senate co-sponsors include senators Barack Obama, D-IL, John McCain, R-AZ, and Tom Carper, D-DE.

Here's the text to be considered by the House next week:

To amend the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 to require data with respect to Federal financial assistance to be available for public access in a searchable and user friendly form.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,


(a) Data Requirements- The Director of the Office of Management and Budget shall, as part of the implementation of the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-107; 31 U.S.C. 6101 note), work with the Administrator of General Services and other agencies to make available data with respect to Federal financial assistance in accordance with this section and section 204 of the E-Government Act of 2002 (Public Law 107-347; 44 U.S.C. 3501 note).

(b) Matters Covered- The Director shall ensure that the data required under subsection (a), at a minimum--

(1) are available on the Internet, from a single website, to the public;

(2) are in a form that allows for searching for Federal financial assistance awards by recipient name;

(3) include information about Federal financial assistance awards within 30 days after award of the assistance;

(4) identify the Federal financial assistance that an entity has received during the preceding 10-year period, including an itemized breakdown of that assistance by agency and program source;

(5) include lists of Federal financial assistance awards and the dates and amounts of Federal fund disbursements; and

(6) identify subgrantees.

(c) Period Covered- For purposes of subsection (b)(4), the first 10-year period to be covered shall begin with the year 2006.

(d) Definition- In this Act, the term `Federal financial assistance' has the meaning provided in section 4(3) of the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 (Public Law 106-107; 31 U.S.C. 6101 note).

(e) Effective Date- The data shall be available for public use not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of this Act.

Note that the proposal includes subgrantees among the recipients that must be accessible via the new database. That provision is likely to generate opposition at OMB and more generally among the ranks of the career bureaucracy because implementing it will both mean more work for some employees and because have such data will greatly improve the public's ability to understand what actually happens to their tax dollars after Congress approves spending bills.

Also, the Davis-Blunt proposal does not specifically include federal contracts. The Coburn version in the Senate does. A significant number of non-profits are likely to oppose the Davis-Blunt version because they legitimately fear that a contract-less database could be used to target groups receiving federal assistance that are perceived to be inappropriately political.

The key is getting all government spending available to the public, subject only to minimal and reasonable exceptions for things like national security. Once all government spending is available on the Internet - along with the actual texts of contracts and supporting documents, as well as other measure like Memoranda of Understanding committing federal departments and agencies to actions requiring the expenditure of federal funds - it will be vastly more difficult for politicians to use their offices to advance their own interests and those of supporters and backers without fear of exposure.