In October 2006, Sunlight grantee OMB Watch set up FedSpending.org, a free, searchable database of federal government spending. Subsequent updates have allowed public access to approximately $16.8 trillion in federal government spending, with complete annual data from FY 2000 through FY 2006 and partial data available for FY 2007. The site was so successful that the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) set up USASpending.gov within the Office of Management and Budget, which Congresspedia dubbed "the ‘Google’ of federal spending" by bringing tremendous transparency to how and where government spends tax dollars. As the site says, it’s searchable and accessible by the public for free, and includes for each federal award:
1. The name of the entity receiving the award;
2. The amount of the award;
3. Information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
4. The location of the entity receiving the award; and
5. A unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.
U.S. Sens. Tom Coburn and Barack Obama, the original sponsors of the FFATA in 2006, recognize there is more to be done. Moments ago, Coburn and Obama introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 (S. 3077), which would require the federal government to go beyond summary data on contracts it currently posts. Since the senators just introduced the bill, we don’t yet have a link. We have learned from OMB Watch that the bill contains the following improvements and tweaks:
- Government agencies will add the requests for proposals and the actual contract to the summary information currently available on USASpending.gov, allowing citizens to compare what government asked for and what it got (and how much more or less it had to spend);
- Government will have to publish performance information on contracts, bringing greater accountability to government contractors and those who hire them;
- Grantees will have to disclose additional information, including what type of organization they are (state or local government, university, charity, and so on), the extent to which they rely on other sources for the projects for which they’re seeking federal funding, and whether the funds they’ve received were congressionally directed (that is, an earmark);
- Data quality will be enhanced, and users will be able to easily report errors.
This bill should bring greater disclosure to official government acts, all accessible on the Internet, requiring the federal government to go beyond the summary data on contracts it currently posts.
Only a transparent government can be truly accountable and responsive to its citizens. And we know this bill will bring the executive branch of government closer to realizing this goal.