Opening the Government’s Books
Transparency advocates would like to see the government do a better job tracking federal spending, which reached $3.6 trillion in fiscal 2011. They may soon get their wish. In a recent vote, the House of Representatives approved a bill requiring the government to clearly show how and where taxpayers’ money is being spent.
Quite simply, say proponents of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2012, or DATA Act, the vote represents a major step forward in efforts to bring full transparency to government spending. Or, as Rep. Dennis Ross, R-FL, a strong proponent of the bill, put it during debate: “The DATA Act finally does what America wants: Opens up the books of government and lets the taxpayers see what is being spent….This common sense, bipartisan bill will bring much needed accountability and transparency to federal spending.”
The DATA Act is designed to build on the successes of the Recovery Board. Under the $840 billion Recovery program, the Board collects data from recipients of contracts, grants and loans and displays detailed spending information on its website, Recovery.gov. Proponents were quick to applaud the Board’s dedication to transparency and accountability.
“The DATA Act … will literally track those trillions of dollars in a way not done outside the Recovery Act,’’ Rep. Darrell Issa, R-CA, the driving force behind the legislation, said during the debate. “Quite frankly, we owe a debt of gratitude to the Recovery Board for showing us an effective system on which we could build.’’
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, D-MD, the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where the legislation was born, praised the Board for its successful oversight program. Under its watchful eye, he said, “the Recovery Act had historically low levels of waste, fraud, and abuse.’’
The DATA Act would replace the Recovery Board with a new, independent five-member commission to collect and display spending information for all government agencies on a single public website. The panel members, to be appointed by the President and confirmed by the Senate, would also be responsible for ensuring that government funds are not stolen or wasted.
The fate of the DATA Act now rests with the Senate. Amendments are likely, and no one knows if the legislation will be adopted. But it is clear that the idea has a lot more supporters now than it did when Rep. Issa and Sen. Mark Warner, D-VA, first proposed the measure last year.
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board