Congress sends financial transparency bill to White House

Congress is sending legislation to President Bush that would require the Office of Management and Budget to build a publicly accessible online database of who receives federal money.

The House passed by voice vote the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S. 2590) Sept. 13.

“Sunshine is the best disinfectant,” said Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, on the House floor.

Earlier this year, Davis and Majority Whip Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) introduced a similar bill, which the House passed. The Blunt-Davis bill dealt only with federal grants, while the Senate bill expanded to cover contracting funds.

“The American taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being used, and they are right to expect that it be used responsibly to achieve results,” said OMB Director Rob Portman in a statement.

The bill would create a Google-like search engine and database to track about $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

Rep. Danny Davis (D-Ill.), a supporter of the bill, said the key to success is implementation. “Without it, we will be where we are now with poor access to information,” he said. If done well, the public will increase its oversight of federal spending, he added.

The mandated Web site would show how much funding an organization received in each of the past 10 fiscal years, a breakdown of the transactions and details about the organization.

“The group that deserves credit for passing this bill, however, is not Congress, but the army of bloggers and concerned citizens who told Congress that transparency is a just demand for all citizens, not a special privilege for political insiders,” said the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

The legislation faced big obstacles. Several senators had placed holds on it, blocking it from floor consideration. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) admitted to doing so, and Coburn’s staff suspected that Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) also had, according to a statement. The holds were later released.

Coburn said bloggers had hounded senators until the field was narrowed to a few suspects. Reports state that they contacted every senator’s office to determine who had placed holds.

“When you can’t find where the money goes, it is impossible to do responsible legislation and absolutely impossible to do responsible oversight,” said Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) on the House floor.

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