Rep. Issa tries oversight on recovery board model

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) has proposed building a single Web-based platform on which to publicize agencies’ spending and internal expenses in standard format for closer review.

Issa’s new Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA) would move the USASpending.gov website’s functions, as well as Recovery.gov, to the new online database. It would also require more detailed reports from groups and companies that receive government money to go into the site. Read the legislation, or read a summary.

The chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee is attempting to centralize information and make it compatible with other government information for better evaluations on spending, he said.

To do so, the bill would push the Obama administration to standardize the currently incompatible data with new universal reporting forms for recipients and agencies. Those new standards would be set up by the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency (FAST) board. The board would be a revised version of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board in charge of finding fraud and waste in the economic stimulus law's spending.

Many watchdog groups, legislators, and the administration have been impressed with that board’s work in overseeing stimulus money. In a June 13 speech on the Obama administration’s own transparency reforms, Vice President Joe Biden said the board changed the culture of the federal government and shifted the paradigm to one of transparency.

Issa's bill would require agencies to collect their spending information and combine it with data reported by recipients of the government money, another requirement similar to the economic stimulus law's rules. The information would also go online.

Agencies, Congress and outside oversight groups would be more apt to discover waste and inefficiencies in the government by gathering and centralizing the information, Issa said. “Americans have the right to know what their government is doing with their money,” Issa said. “Incompatible technologies, inaccurate data, and a lack of common standards impede transparency.”

Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, tweeted on June 13 that Issa's bill had some "good solid initiatives."

Issa pointed to the problems of inaccuracy in the USASpending.gov website, of its basic information, and the site’s unique format that doesn’t work with other federal databases. The bill would seek to fix those problems, he said.

The same day Issa made his announcement, President Barack Obama sent out his own video message about the need for efficiency and savings of tax money. Biden also spoke about the administration’s reforms. He said Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate, including Issa, are in accord on basic issues on how to get the transparency the government needs. Read more about the administration’s new proposal efforts.

Although Issa agrees with Biden in many areas, he said legislation is the way to institute these programs.

"The problem we face is not a partisan one, it is a bureaucratic one," Issa said. "The bureaucracy is resistant to change. That’s why we need to enact legislation and establish a permanent and independent board to create transparency in federal spending."

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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