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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

O Happy Day! Bush Signs Coburn-Obama; Lauds Government Transparency in Signing

Photo by Glenn Reynolds, Instapundit. Tim Chapman has more photos here. White House video of the signing can be viewed here. Americans for Prosperity's Ed Frank has a great shot here. Rob Bluey of Human Events has more here, including a photo of the group that met with OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson after the signing to discuss how the spending datbase will actually be created in the next two years. N.Z. Bear at Porkbusters.org has more here and Ace of Spades does a stream of (sort of) consciousness account of his role in the day's events, beginning with a breakfast at the White House mess.

Do not miss Danny Glover's extensive analysis at Beltway Blogroll. He notes some of the backstory elements to some of the congressional statements about the Bush signing. And Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist justifiably singles out Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, N.Z. Bear of Porkbusters, Ed Morrissey of Captain's Quarters and other bloggers for their role in mobilizing public support. And Mary Katharine Ham points to the one surprising oversight by the White House.

Here's the text of President Bush's signing statement for the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act this morning in the Old Executive Office Building beside the White House:

"Every April, Americans sit down and fill out their tax returns, and they find out how much of their hard-earned money is coming here to Washington. Once the tax dollars arrive here, most Americans have little idea of where the money goes. And today, our government is taking steps to change that. We believe that the more we inform our American citizens, the better our government will be.

"And so in a few moments, I'll sign the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. This bill is going to create a website that will list the federal government's grants and contracts. It's going to be a website that the average citizen can access and use. It will allow Americans to log onto the Internet just to see how your money is being spent. This bill will increase accountability and reduce incentives for wasteful spending. I am proud to sign it into law and I am proud to be with members of both political parties who worked hard to get this bill to my desk.

"This has been a good effort by concerned members of the House and the Senate to say to the American people, we want to earn your trust; when we spend your money, we want you to be able to watch us.

"I want to thank Rob Portman, who is in my Cabinet, he's the Director of the OMB, and my good friend, Clay Johnson, is the Deputy Director, for insisting on accountability when it comes to taxpayers' money. I know this has been a particular project -- a fond project of Clay, and I'm glad that members of Congress got it here.

"I want to thank Susan Collins, who is the Chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. I want to thank the bill sponsors, Tom Coburn from Oklahoma, Tom Carper from Delaware, and Barack Obama from Illinois.

"I appreciate Roy Blunt, who is the Majority Whip. He's a sponsor of the House companion bill. I also want to thank Tom Davis, who is the Chairman of the Government Reform Committee, as well as cosponsors of the bill, Jeb Hensarling and Randy Kuhl.

"You know, we spend a lot of time and a lot of effort collecting your money, and we should show the same amount of effort in reporting how we spend it. Every year, the federal government issues more than $400 billion in grants, and more than $300 billion in contracts to corporations, associations, and state and local governments. Taxpayers have a right to know where that money is going, and you have a right to know whether or not you're getting value for your money.

"Under Clay's leadership, we launched a new system for measuring how federal programs are doing. In other words, federal programs say, we want to achieve this result, we're trying to figure out whether or not they're meeting the results. In other words, it makes sense for all of us in Washington, D.C. to say, we're a results-oriented government.

"I know Henry Waxman believes that. (Laughter.) Thank you for coming. Proud you're here, sir. I was just praising the bipartisan support that this bill has received, and you’re confirmation of that bipartisan support. (Laughter.) Thank you, appreciate you coming.

"And so we've got -- we're measuring, and we put a -- we put a website out called ExpectMore.gov. In other words, people can go on to that website and determine whether or not the results are being met for programs.

"And now Congress has come forth with an additional sense of accountability here in Washington, additional way for taxpayers to figure out whether or not we're being wise with your money. And the Federal Funding Accountability Act -- Accountability and Transparency Act will create a new website that will list government grants and contracts greater than $25,000. We'll list all grants except for those above $25,000, except for those that must remain classified for national security reasons.

"The website will allow our citizens to go online, type in the name of any company, association, or state or locality and find out exactly what grants and contracts they've been awarded. It will allow citizens to call up the name and location of entities receiving federal funds, and will provide them with the purpose of the funding, the amount of money provided, the agency providing the funding and other relevant information.

"By allowing Americans to Google their tax dollars, this new law will help taxpayers demand greater fiscal discipline. In other words, we're arming our fellow citizens with the information that will enable them to demand we do a better job -- a better job in the executive branch and better job in the legislative branch.

"Information on earmarks will no longer be hidden deep in the pages of a federal budget bill, but just a few clicks away. This legislation will give the American people a new tool to hold their government accountable for spending decisions. When those decisions are made in broad daylight, they will be wiser and they will be more restrained. This is a good piece of legislation, and I congratulate the members here.

"Recently the House made an important rule change that will also improve transparency in the legislative process. Under the rule change, the sponsor of each project will now be disclosed before the bills come to a vote. This is a wise change. It will shine the light on earmarks. It's going to help the American taxpayers know whether or not they're getting their money's worth here in Washington.

"Rule change, along with the bill I'll sign today, are important steps, but there's more to be done. The President needs a line-item veto. Here's the problem: I get a big bill, an important bill to my desk, and in that bill there may be some bad spending items, some kind of last minute cram-ins, or items that may not have seen the full light of day during the legislative process. I then either have to accept those, or veto a good bill. And there's a better way forward, at least the House thought there was a better way forward in the legislative process, and that's the line-item veto.

"Under the proposal, the President can approve spending that is necessary, red-line spending that is not, and send the wasteful and unnecessary spending back to the Congress for an up or down vote. I think this is an important part of making sure we have accountability here in Washington, D. C.

"I want to thank the House for passing the bill. I would hope the Senate would take it up. We can work together to inspire confidence in the appropriations process here in Washington. And it's in the interest of both political parties to do so, and it's in the interest of both branches of government to do so.

"Right now, however, I have the honor of signing this new bill. It’s a bill that empowers the American taxpayer, the American citizen. And we believe that the more transparency there is in the system, the better the system functions on behalf of the American people.

"Again, I thank the members. It’s my honor now to sign the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006."

UPDATE: White House talking points on FFATA

We hear the term "talking points" frequently in the media and the Blogosphere. Here's the White House talking points for today's signing of Coburn-Obama.

Today's Presidential Action

Today, President Bush Signed The Federal Funding Accountability And Transparency Act Of 2006 To Improve The Quality And Accessibility Of Information About Federal Spending. This legislation calls on the Office of Management and Budget to oversee a new website through which the public can readily access information about grants and contracts provided by Federal government agencies, except for those classified for national security reasons.

Ø The Act Is Part Of President Bush's Ongoing Commitment To Improve Transparency, Accountability, And Management Across The Federal Government. The Administration has implemented a number of initiatives allowing American taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are spent and what they are getting for their money. Greater transparency has made programs more accountable for their performance and more responsive to the American public. Two of these initiatives include:

· ExpectMore.gov: This website was established earlier this year to allow the American people to see how well Federal programs are performing. To date, the Administration has evaluated the effectiveness of nearly 800 Federal programs, representing over 80 percent of the Federal budget. Agencies and OMB post these candid assessments of Federal programs in jargon-free language on ExpectMore.gov, so taxpayers will know which programs work, which ones do not, and what programs are doing to improve.

· Results.gov: Since 2002, this website has provided detailed information on the President's agenda for improving Federal agency management. It also tracks agencies' progress in meeting their goals. Federal agencies are held accountable for developing and adopting better management disciplines under the President's Management Agenda. The status of agencies' management reform efforts is made public through scorecards updated on Results.gov every quarter.

Transparency Produces Quantifiable Results

The President's Push To Publicly Provide Federal Program Performance Information Has Helped Make Agencies Accountable For Producing Results. Agency management improvement efforts are measured based on clear, transparent, quantifiable goals. For example:

Ø With The Support Of Congress, And After Publicly Disclosing Clear Justification, The President Was Successful In Reducing Or Ending Spending On 89 Programs That Weren't Getting Results Or Serving Essential Priorities. This year, the President proposes to end or reduce 141 programs that are not achieving results or serving essential priorities, saving nearly $15 billion.

Ø By Making Agencies Verify Payment Eligibility And Publicly Measure Accuracy, Improper Payments Have Been Reduced By $7.8 Billion, Lowering The Government-Wide Improper Payment Rate By 17 Percent.

Ø By Subjecting Federal Government Activities To Competition From The Private Sector, The Federal Government Is Now Operating More Efficiently And Saving Taxpayers $900 Million Per Year.

Ø By Creating An Inventory Of Property Held By The Federal Government, The President Has Been Able To Dispose Of More Than $3.5 Billion In Unneeded Federal Assets.

Transparency And Accountability For Spending Taxpayer Dollars – The Line Item Veto

In Order To Turn Information About Wasteful Spending Into Concrete Action, The President Needs The Line Item Veto. The House of Representatives approved Line Item Veto legislation earlier this year by a strong bipartisan majority, and the President calls on the Senate to do the same. The Line Item Veto would be a tool to further improve government transparency and accountability and ensure wise financial stewardship of taxpayer resources.

Here's my original post from this morning before the signing:

President Bush will sign into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, co-sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-MD, and Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, this morning in a White House ceremony that will include a bunch of us bloggers as guests.

Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit, N.Z. Bear of Porkbusters.org, yours truly and a bunch of others will be there to witness an historic event. John Hart, Coburn's communications director, notes in a Washington Times news article of Coburn-Obama that:

"It really does represent a revival of basic democratic values: that active citizens using tools of technology really can steer the political process. And what happened was profoundly subversive to the established political order."

That last line is exactly the point. The mainstream media has not devoted much attention to Coburn-Obama, but I believe it will prove in the near-future to be among the most important legislation of the early 21st Century.