What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

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Senator Tom Coburn is holding a hearing this morning with the above title. The hearing is focusing on the nearly complete lack of transparency for federal spending decisions and his bill to remedy that. He says his bill would create a "google-like search engine" that will disclose all the recipients of federal funding. Could there possibly be a sane argument against this? The co-sponsorship alone (Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama) suggests that this legislation is significant.

A number of folks are testifying this morning, including Gary Bass, Executive Director of OMB Watch. OMB Watch is working on just such a searchable online database of all grants and contracts as a grantee of Sunlight. It’s pretty certain that the database will be ready (look for it in the early fall) before Coburn’s bill becomes law given the indefensible hurdles the bill faces. But the OMB Watch database will reveal how "what you don’t know can hurt you" and hopefully give a push to enacting a Coburn-type bill down the road.

Bass’ testimony makes several really key points about why such a database – and why far greater openness in general about Congress’ activities – is critical.

…..the public has a right to know how and on what the government is spending public resources – is a key aspect of allowing citizens to hold their government accountable and make informed decisions during elections. With easy and timely access to government spending information, the public will be much more likely and able to question their elected representatives, uproot and decrease both unethical and corrupt behavior, and address inappropriate allocation of federal resources. At the same time, the public will be able to better appreciate the scope and importance of the federal investment in our communities, and possibly participate more actively in shaping the priorities that govern our federal spending."

One of Coburn’s staffer’s yesterday sent me a link their website that contains an ongoing feature on government spending waste, earmarks and the like.

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