Signed, sealed: Spending database bill is law

President Bush today signed legislation that will require the Office of Management and Budget to oversee a searchable Web site containing data on all sorts of government spending.

And a lot of the credit should go to bloggers, according to a senior administration official.

Clay Johnson, OMB’s deputy director for management, said today that once bloggers got wind of the bill and the fact that senators placed anonymous holds on it to stall its passage, things changed.

“We heard from senators and congressmen that the bloggers reported on this bill a tremendous amount and they had a huge impact on the holds being removed,” Johnson said after a luncheon in Washington sponsored by the IBM Center for the Business of Government and the National Academy of Public Administration.

Johnson said OMB even invited about 10 bloggers to the bill signing today and then had them come to his office for about an hour to discuss how they can work together in the future.

“The bloggers pay attention to the information, but they are not pawns of ours,” Johnson said. “We will ask them what kinds of things they want to see on the Web site, how the format should look, things like that. We want them to continue to be accessible to us.”

The legislation, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, mandates that the portal should be operational by January 2008 and include data on contracts, subcontracts, vendors, grants, subgrants, grant winners and task orders.

“Some members of Congress on the Appropriations Committee were not enthusiastic about that kind of transparency,” said OMB director Rob Portman at the IBM event.

Congress passed the bill earlier this month.

With the bill now officially law, the White House said it has already taken several steps toward bringing more transparency to federal spending. Johnson said Robert Shea, his counsel, would lead the building of the database.

In particular, the White House highlighted the Web site—which posts assessments on roughly 800 government programs—and portal, which contains data measuring how agencies are implementing the President’s Management Agenda.

“By allowing Americans to Google their tax dollars, this new law will help taxpayers demand greater fiscal discipline. In other words, we're arming our fellow citizens with the information that will enable them to demand we do a better job -- a better job in the executive branch and a better job in the legislative branch,” Bush said at the signing ceremony. “Information on earmarks will no longer be hidden deep in the pages of a federal budget bill, but just a few clicks away. This legislation will give the American people a new tool to hold their government accountable for spending decisions. When those decisions are made in broad daylight, they will be wiser, and they will be more restrained.”

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