Progress on spending database creeps along

Robert Shea, OMB's lead on the project, said the online system will be ready by Jan. 1, 2008, despite not moving as fast as he would like.

The Federal Financial Accountability and Transparency Act celebrated its first birthday Nov. 29, and the effort to put the new database online is falling behind. Robert Shea, the Office of Management and Budget’s associate director for administration and government performance and lead on developing the FederalSpending.gov Web site, said Nov. 29 that the effort is not where it should be, but is making progress toward meeting the Jan. 1, 2008, deadline mandated by Congress. OMB must make information on contracts, grants, loans and other transactions searchable on the Web by the new year. OMB, through the General Services Administration, awarded a contract to Global Computing Enterprises for $0 in October to provide the contract and grant data. Shea also confirmed that OMB will use the platform developed for FedSpending.org by OMBWatch last year as the foundation for the federal version. “We will add functionality to what OMBWatch already has done,” Shea said at an event celebrating the latest version of FedSpending.org held in Washington. “What we will launch will look a lot like FedSpending.org, but we will have more data than they do. We may not have all the functionality that they do in January, but we will try.” Shea also said the federal version of the database will have an application program interface, which lets users develop an interface with the database to obtain the data they want. Gary Bass, OMBWatch executive director and founder, said in unveiling the third version of its spending database Nov. 29 that there are several spending areas that need more attention. He said OMB and Congress should consider tying data with other disparate data sets such as Census information or money and politics data. Another area would be a subsidy database detailing where federal subsidies are going beyond grants and contracts. A third area would be to expand the search capability to combine grants and contracts or look up by education or arts. “We will push hard over the next three years to get these done,” Bass said. OMBWatch added new functions to its database, including expanded tables, improved search capability and a mapping function to see what state or district is receiving federal funds. The expandable tables list more than just the top 5 in a specific category, but the entire list, if requested. In the first year, Fedspending.org received more than 5 million searches, said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, which provided a grant to OMBWatch to develop the database.

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