‘Transparency’ law creates site to track federal spending

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

WASHINGTON — President Bush said last week that Americans would now be able to “Google their tax dollars,” as he signed a law to create an online database for tracking about $1 trillion in government spending on grants and contracts.

The law, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, aims to prevent wasteful spending by opening the federal budget to greater scrutiny. The information is already available, but the Web site would make it easier for those who aren't experts to see how taxpayer dollars are being spent.

“Information on earmarks will no longer be hidden deep in the pages of a federal budget bill, but just a few clicks away,” Bush said in a signing ceremony Sept. 26. “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.”

Cox News Service quoted First Amendment Center Ombudsman Paul K. McMasters as saying, “The president's comments about more openness on the federal government were welcomed by those who are concerned about the increasing secretiveness in government.”

McMasters added: “What would be even better would be to see actions match those words.” He told Cox that too much government information, classified and unclassified, remained unavailable to American citizens.

Bush signed the bill in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, sitting before lawmakers and Internet bloggers who helped get it through Congress.

Senate sponsors Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; and Barack Obama, D-Ill., released a statement saying the measure represented “a small but important step in the effort to change the culture in Washington, D.C.”

“American taxpayers soon will be equipped with a significant tool that will make it much easier to hold elected officials accountable for the way taxpayer money is spent,” they said. “The army of bloggers, editorialists and concerned citizens who worked diligently to see this bill pass deserve all the credit and praise today.”

Senate leaders had tried to pass the bill in early August but Rep. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., blocked passage by lodging secret “holds” on the bill. The bloggers tracked down those responsible for the delay and the senators let the bill advance under the pressure.

The law calls for the Web site to go online by Jan. 1, 2008. It will list federal grants and contracts greater than $25,000, except for those classified for national-security reasons.

“The Web site will allow our citizens to go online, type in the name of any company, association, or state or locality and find out exactly what grants and contracts they've been awarded,” Bush said.

“By allowing Americans to Google their tax dollars, this new law will help taxpayers demand greater fiscal discipline,” Bush said.

Cox News Service also quoted Brian Darling, director of Senate relations at the conservative Heritage Foundation, as saying the president was making a shift toward openness in federal spending, but not national security.

“Washington is seeing a shift,” Darling told Cox. “The president wants to lift the veil on spending and allow the public to see how their money is being spent.”

Darling added that Bush was “justifiably secretive” on national security, exercising the right to keep the administration's terrorist tracking secret.

But former Georgia Republican Rep. Bob Barr, a critic of the Bush's secret domestic-surveillance programs, told Cox News Service that he didn't think the bill Bush signed “represents a president who believes in openness in government.”

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