Where’s Our Harry Truman?


During the build up to World War II and throughout the war, Harry Truman built a reputation investigating overspending and profiteering involving defense contracts. Truman found that favoritism and not merit was the basis for the awarding of huge arms contracts, with the biggest companies with the political influence getting all the contracts. Truman visited military bases and armament plants, finding gross mismanagement of defense dollars. He enlisted other senators to go on tour with him, and this ad hoc watchdog effort soon led to a formal investigation. Becoming known informally as the Truman Committee, the investigation exposed waste and corruption throughout the war effort, saving the country $15 billion.

Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone, looks like a one-man Truman Committee, exposing in graphic terms what can only be described as the shocking corruption, sleaze and criminal mismanagement by private American companies contracting with the federal government to do work in Iraq. "How is it done?" Taibbi asks. "How do you screw the taxpayer for millions, get away with it and then ride off into the sunset with one middle finger extended, the other wrapped around a chilled martini?" He proceeds to show how sleazy yet politically connected contractors wasted what they didn’t steal of tens of billions of taxpayer dollars meant to supply the troops and rebuild Iraq. Politically connected con men "went from bumming cab fare to doing $100 million in government contracts practically overnight," Taibbi writes. Contractor fraud in Iraq has been in the headlines since the early days of the war, but Taibbi’s expose is especially graphic.

Each of us can be our own investigative reporter by accessing OMB Watch’s FedSpending.org, a searchable database of nearly all government spending since FY 2000. It’s a great place for journalists and citizens to find out how tax dollars are spent. OMB Watch, a Sunlight Foundation grantee, started development of the site after years of frustration over not being able to obtain information about federal contracts and grants. OMB Watch and Sunlight share the belief that the public has a right to know how government spends money so that citizens can hold elected officials accountable for the national priorities they set. Other resources, like POGO’s malfeasance database, OpenSecrets’ lobbying and campaign contributions, and others add more detail to the unholy alliance of power, money and influence that fuels too much of what happens in Washington.