House panel approves transparency bill

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has approved legislation that would reform how federal spending is reported to the public.

A House panel has approved a bill that would create a single governmentwide board to set rules for expense reporting and track all federal spending data on a single website modeled after the Recovery.gov site.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee passed the legislation June 22. Sponsored by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the committee’s chairman, the bill would create a Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board, similar to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that is charged with finding fraud and waste in economic stimulus law spending.

The bill would also require standardization of spending data by recipients and agencies.


Related story:

Rep. Issa tries oversight on recovery board model


The Obama administration issued an executive order June 13 that seeks to standardize the reporting of spending data. It contains many features similar to those in Issa’s bill, which was introduced on the same day. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) has introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

A group of 10 transparency advocacy groups endorsed both efforts in a letter to the committee, dated June 21.

“President Obama’s June 13, 2011, Executive Order has the immediate effect of creating a Government Accountability and Transparency Board with the mission of applying the lessons of the [Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board] to the entire federal government,” the letter states. “These are complementary efforts. The Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board, as envisioned by Chairman Issa and Senator Warner, will have the opportunity to learn from the report to be issued by President Obama’s Government Accountability and Transparency Board. Similarly, if enacted, the [legislation] will revolutionize federal spending transparency by impelling agency compliance and addressing the thorny but crucial questions of data standardization.”

However, several transparency groups are less enthusiastic because Issa’s legislation would expire in seven years unless Congress reauthorizes it. There are also concerns that the bill would repeal the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which created USAspending.gov.

Craig Jennings, director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, wrote in a blog entry June 22 that those concerns were strong enough that the organization could not support the legislation.

Although OMB Watch approves of many of the bill’s provisions, the legislation is fatally flawed, Jennings wrote. “By repealing FFATA, the bill would actually take spending transparency a few steps back because FFATA contains a number of data elements that are required to be reported that the [new bill] does not. And unless Congress acts to reauthorize the bill in 2018, the spending information that appears on USAspending.gov and all the other spending transparency created by the [legislation] will disappear.”

“We shouldn't have to be reconsidering whether spending transparency is necessary every seven years or worried that a polarized Congress finding itself in a legislative stalemate will fail to agree on approving time-sensitive legislation,” Jennings added.

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