Spending transparency for the federal government

OMB Watch reports here and here on the Transparency Through Technology: Evaluating Federal Open-Government Initiatives : Transparency Through Technology: Evaluating Federal Open-Government Initiatives and testimony here.

OMB Watch recommends six changes Congress and the Obama administration should make to USAspending.gov, the government’s spending website which is based off of one of their websites, FedSpending.org.

Making USAspending.gov better isn’t just about improving the quality of the current data, which Friday’s hearing focused on a great deal, it’s also about broadening the site’s scope. We need to bring in other data sources to improve, and help give context to, the spending data already on USAspending.gov. To that end, the testimony outlines a six-point plan for advancing federal spending transparency:

  • Treasury data: Use spending information directly from the nation’s checkbook, which would improve data quality
  • Tax expenditure data: Shed light on the more than $1 trillion in tax expenditures
  • Multi-tier sub-recipient reporting: Everyone who gets federal funds must report in, as opposed to the current two-tier system
  • Unique entity identification: Create a new system to link recipients to lobbying data, contractor performance information, etc.
  • Full text of contracts: Show detailed information on government projects, not just short summaries
  • Performance information: Provide meaningful data on which programs are effective

OMB notes that in the House, funds for such initiatives were slashed:

In the midst of a fight about the budget deficit, Congress is poised to shut down federal websites that tell the public how the government spends our money. It’s ironic and disappointing. Websites like USAspending.gov and Data.gov have started to make government more transparent. But just when things are starting to get better, Congress wants to take us backward. Members of Congress love to talk about transparency, but the spending bill being negotiated right now would slash funding for vital transparency programs by 94 percent. Agencies are already making contingency plans to shut down the sites if their funding is cut so drastically. Congress is set to vote on the budget this week. Incredibly, Congress wants to cut the Electronic Government Fund even though it represents only 0.002 percent of the deficit. But this tiny slice of the budget pays big dividends: sites like USAspending.gov help citizens and government watchdogs spot wasteful spending and other abuses – and deter them from happening in the first place. We can’t afford to not know how our money is being spent. Meanwhile, Congress hasn’t held a single hearing to debate the destructive impact these cuts would have on government openness.