After Schock scandal, House curtails wasteful spending with disclosure and open data

Aaron Schock. (Photo credit: House GOP/Flickr)

This morning, the House Committee on Administration moved forward with new rules on how members of Congress spend taxpayer dollars on auto mileage, air travel, office decoration and more. The resolution requires more detailed disclosure on travel spending and makes it more difficult for members to spend lavishly on office decor or chartered travel.

The changes emerged from a task force led by Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., set up by the committee in response to excesses by former Rep. Aaron Schock.

Perhaps most importantly, the committee has committed to releasing house expenditure reports as open data. This represents a huge leap forward from the current system of difficult to parse PDF documents that should make it easier for journalists, watchdogs and lawmakers themselves to identify potentially inappropriate spending patterns.

The changes will also close a loophole that allows members to obscure many details about how they spend money on official travel. This “travel subsistence budget object classification” has been used to lump various trips into single payments, making it more difficult to identify potential misuse of funds. The committee has instructed the chief administration officer to submit a plan to close this loophole.

Sunlight first reported on this loophole earlier this year after parsing through the PDF statements of disbursement. We are happy to say that this sort of analysis should be much easier in the future thanks to the committee’s rule changes.

In addition to moving towards more modern and granular disclosure, the changes should make it more difficult for members to waste taxpayer dollars on unnecessary charter flights, travel, even expensive furniture when they could easily get these.

We’re thrilled that Davis and Lofgren, along with the entire Committee on House Administration, were able to put partisanship aside and create rules that are good for the House as well as the public. We’ll be eagerly awaiting the shift to searchable, sortable data.