Obama, Coburn propose more transparency in government contracting

Presumptive Democratic nominee for president Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) submitted bipartisan legislation June 3 that would expand public information available on federal contracts and spending.

Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008 to make more federal contracting and spending information available on the USASpending.gov Web site, they said in a news release.

The USASpending.gov Web site was created under a previous Coburn-Obama transparency bill in 2006 and launched in December 2007. It provides information on federal grants, contracts, loans and financial assistance, currently tracking about $1 trillion in spending.

This new legislation allows Web site visitors to view copies of federal contracts and information about competitive bidding, earmarks, government leases, work quality, federal audit disputes, violations and criminal activities, federal tax compliance and government reports.

It also would improve the ability to conduct Web site searches, allow reporting of errors and require a quality audit of USASpending.gov every six months.

Sens. Tom Carper (D-Del.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are original co-sponsors of the new bill.

"We should do everything we can to ensure that the American public can easily access and track how the federal government does its business," Obama said in the release. “While USASpending.gov has had tremendous success, this new legislation will expand the public information available on the Web site and improve the quality of government financial data.”

Under the proposed bill, the improved Web site will include:

  • A copy of each federal contract in PDF and searchable text format.

  • Details about competitive bidding, the range of technically acceptable bids or proposals and profit incentives offered.

  • Contract amount, including options to expand or extend the contract.

  • Indication of whether the award is an earmark.

  • Government lease agreements and assignments.

  • Assessment of the quality of work performed.

  • Federal audit disputes and resolutions, terminations, suspensions and debarments, and administrative agreements.

  • Civil, criminal or administrative actions taken against federal award recipients, including workplace, environmental protection, fraud, securities and consumer protection violations.

  • Federal tax compliance by federal award recipients.

  • Parent company ownership.

  • Links to publicly available government reports.

The legislation has been endorsed by several advocacy groups, including the Federation of American Scientists, Project on Government Oversight, Public Citizen and U.S. PIRG, a federation of state public interest research groups.

Most government agencies are submitting their data to USASpending.gov, but some are not doing so, according to Steven Aftergood, director of government secrecy at the scientists’ federation.

“Some intelligence agencies have dragged their heels in opposition,” Aftergood wrote June 4 on his Secrecy News blog. “The Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, which used to disclose their unclassified contracts, actually withheld such information from the USASpending.gov database in 2007 and 2008.”

Alice Lipowicz writes for Washington Technology, an 1105 Government Information Group publication.

About the Author

Alice Lipowicz is a staff writer covering government 2.0, homeland security and other IT policies for Federal Computer Week.


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