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.
This week I have highlights from
Earmark foes are preparing to force a vote that would oblige senators to disclose all campaign contributions connected to their pet projects.As the battle over the budget heats up, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and other senators are readying an amendment in case Democrats propose an alternative to a Republican-led moratorium on earmarks, as Coburn suspects.
Just got word, via Ed Frank of Americans for Prosperity, that an earmark to fund a museum near Woodstock that was requested by both Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Hillary Clinton. Columnist Robert Novak noted some campaign contributions in connection with the earmark, which promised $1 million to the Bethel Museum. Novak wrote,
Bethel typifies the earmark epidemic because political insiders are often found pushing pork. The museum is funded principally by billionaire Alan Gerry's foundation, which has annual investment income of $24 million. Federal Election Commission records show that Gerry has donated at least $229,000 to political campaigns, and his wife, Sandra, has contributed $90,000 over the past 10 years (including $26,000 in the last election cycle to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, headed by Schumer). On June 30, the Gerrys gave the maximum $9,200 to Clinton's presidential campaign, three days after the two New York senators put the Bethel earmark into the Labor-HHS bill.Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Jon Kyl sponsored an amendment that diverted the funds from Bethel to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant program. Incidentally, the Bethel Museum earmark is still up for grabs on EarmarkWatch.org, as are many others. The Earmark of Aquarius isn't the only sketchy one in there, and EarmarkWatch.org gives you the tools to find them. Continue reading
Robert Novak suggests in a column today one subject in divided Washington that gets bipartisan support:
[Sen. Harry] Reid is also working behind the scenes with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to undermine earmark transparency and prevent open debate on spending proposals... ...Reid is plotting to strip anti-earmark transparency from the final version of ethics legislation passed by the Senate and House, with tacit support from Republican senators and the GOP leadership.I'm shocked. Also not surprised. Interestingly, Novak reports that the issue that's rankling lawmakers is a provision that would "bar earmarks benefiting a senator's family members." Continue reading
Robert Novak has more on the backdoor maneuvering and dust-up between Sen. Tom Coburn and Sen. Ted Stevens over the issue of disclosing earmarks that he'd alluded to earlier. Coburn sponsored a measure that would require the Pentagon to issue report cards on the utility and effectiveness of projects earmarked by members of Congress; Stevens didn't care for the scrutiny. The intra-party squabble doesn't interest me so much as the bottom line:
The earmark process enables the congressional-industrial complex to fund projects the military does not want. This year's bill appropriates money to buy 10 unrequested C-17 Globemaster cargo planes from Boeing. It also funds 60 F-22A Raptor stealth fighters, not supported by the Pentagon and opposed by McCain and Sen. John Warner, Senate Armed Services Committee chairman. F-22A appropriations are guaranteed for three years, reducing leverage with contractor Lockheed Martin. Continue reading
The House and Senate have agreed on a version of S. 2590, the Coburn-Obama database bill. The press release indicates that the publicly available database that the legislation will create will include both federal contracts and grants (an earlier House bill, Blunt-Davis, would have disclosed grants but not contracts). The bill still has to pass the House, but it looks like it's moving forward. Here's the release:
WASHINGTON---House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.), U.S. Senators Tom Coburn (Okla.), Barack Obama (Ill.), and Tom Carper (Del.), and Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (Va.) today announced that they have reached agreement on legislation to increase accountability and transparency by establishing a public database to track federal grants and contracts. Continue reading
Sunlight's been an active analyst on what turns out to be Sen. Ted Stevens' hold on the Coburn-Obama bill and how the lack of transparency of this peculiar Senate process is a huge disservice to our democracy, even though it has long been a hallmark of how the Senate does its business. It's time has come and now, thanks to citizens' response to the blogosphere's rallying calls to find out who was at the bottom of the hold, gone. (OK. That's too optimistic, but I bet that the next time a high profile piece of legislation is moving, a Senator will think twice about putting a secret "hold" on it.)Continue reading
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.Continue reading
Sen. [sw: Tom Coburn] (R-Okla.) is holding up the FY 07 Legislative Branch appropriations bill over an 8 percent increase in Senate spending. According to CongressDailyAM, "Coburn aides and Senate leaders said they hoped to quietly resolve the matter, perhaps by allowing Coburn to offer an amendment to slash the bill's $840 million for Senate offices and expenses -- a $63 million increase over the current year." Coburn stated, "In a time of war, rising gas prices and record deficits, increasing our own budget by an exorbitant amount sends the wrong message to the public".Continue reading