New Open Government and Spending Transparency Reforms Introduced

-By Warner Todd Huston

While the Obama administration plays its games with "czars," more "boards," and "committees" to implement government accountability policies, Representative Darrell Issa (R, Calif.) has introduced some measures that would do a far better job to meet those goals.

President Obama has touted a "Government Accountability and Transparency Board" (GATB) as well as the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB) meant to bring more accountability to federal actions. But what real power will these "boards" and "committees" have? What real good will they do? Worse, how can we expect boards appointed by the president to shine the light of transparency on the Executive branch? So, what will these new presidential projects be doing? The GATB "shall work with the RATB to apply the approaches developed by the RATB across Government spending." Absurdly, these new boards won't even be making a report for six more months.

Congressman Issa, Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, recently introduced the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act which, according to Issa's press release, will "establish an independent body to track federal spending, including grants, contracts, loans and agencies' internal expenses, on a single electronic platform, using consistent reporting standards and data identifiers, and making all of the information available to the public."

"Americans have the right to know what their government is doing with their money," said Issa. "Incompatible technologies, inaccurate data, and a lack of common standards impede transparency. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act will revolutionize the accessibility of government information."

"Today we have 'analog transparency,' in the sense that anybody can file endless Freedom of Information Act requests with one hundred plus separate federal agencies and receive, maybe, after months, thousands of pages of scanned documents that, if carefully perused, might yield up the same information that ought to be able to be derived with a keystroke."

The DATA Act makes several major pro-transparency reforms, including:

  • Establishing a universal standard of recipient reporting for money received from the federal government directly to an independent database. This has widely been credited as the key to the success of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board in catching and preventing fraud, waste, and abuse in stimulus spending.
  • Collecting all agency expenditure data and combining it with the recipient reported data. This will allow agencies, Congress, and citizen watchdogs to discover waste and inefficiency in government and expose systematic financial management problems that lead to improper payments.
  • Creating a permanent successor to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the body established by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to ensure transparency, and giving that board similar powers to ensure all federal spending is transparent to the public. The new board is designated as the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board (FAST Board).
  • Directing the new FAST Board to establish common identifiers and consistent reporting standards for all federally collected data.

The FAST Board will be tasked solely with receiving, organizing, and publishing federal spending information.

To see a section by section summary, download a .pdf HERE.

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