Last night the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act passed both Houses of Congress on voice votes. This is a great victory for transparency in government and for the beginning of the end to the "Closed Door" government. Contracts and grants will be listed in this online searchable database so that all Americans can keep track of the government’s spending. I certainly hope that transparent government will help reduce the distrust in government that exists among such a large portion of America. As Sen. Tom Coburn’s website reads: "Transparency is the foundation of all accountability." But this victory, one that is especially sweet for the online community, should not be claimed to be something that it is not.
For some reason or another Glenn Reynolds, and others as well, have labeled this as an "earmark reform" victory. I have been, and still am, under the impression that the desired transparency in earmarks would come before the earmarks are put into law and the funds appropriated. The FFATA database does not do this. Instead, contracts and grants would be included in the database "within 30 days of funds being disbursed." This in no way resembles earmark reform. We will find out which congressional district an earmarked contract is in, but that information is already easy to figure out. We still do not know who appropriated the money, we certainly don’t have that information prior to passage of a bill, and we do not have the ability to challenge individual earmarks before a bill is passed.
Currently in the House debate continues over an actual earmark reform effort. This effort is, however, less than satisfactory. According to the New York Times, the "draft resolution defined earmarks only as funds for organizations outside the federal government, like cities, universities, museums or nonprofit groups. It would not apply to earmarks directing money to the Defense Department or other federal agencies to execute projects, which account for the vast majority of the federal money spent on earmarks." There are some positive elements to this reform but it just does not go far enough. All earmarks from all committees should be disclosed.
The passage of FFATA is a huge victory for anyone who believes that government should be accountable to the people. Everyone involved should give themselves a pat on the back. The next battle ought to be over real earmark reform. In the end it will either be the people who decide or the Appropriators.
Update: Glenn Reynolds has some action items for those interested in seeing earmark reform this year. Check it out.