PJMedia has learned that today Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) will introduce a new government openness bill that could revolutionize the way Washington operates and force a new level of federal transparency. If implemented, with a single click of a mouse citizens will be able to access traceable, digital information about how their tax dollars are being spent.
Issa, who is the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, is expected today to introduce the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, or DATA Act. In short, he is seeking to force the government to open up its accounting books to the public. The modernization effort is an unprecedented and ambitious effort.
The new legislation will force the federal government to modernize its digital operations and finally reveal to the public through a single electronic platform its internal spending and external grants, contracts, and loans. It could empower citizens and government watchdog groups to challenge federal spending on wasteful or worthless programs.
Federal spending has always been a mystery to the public and even to Congress. Washington spending is at an all-time high. The Obama administration’s current spending level is a $3.18 trillion for the 2011 fiscal year.
To track these sums, the U.S. government operates two major databases, “USASpending.gov” and “Recovery.gov.” They are regarded as cumbersome, incomplete, disorganized, and intentionally opaque. Tracking the money has been impossible even for Congress, which has oversight authority.
For decades a wide swath of private industry — including banking and exchange trading industries — has provided user-friendly data tracking capabilities. But to date the federal government does not provide accurate and traceable information about how it spends taxpayer dollars.
If enacted, the DATA Act would set up a single tracking agency. It would follow federal spending, including grants, contracts, loans, and agencies’ internal expenses on a single electronic platform. It will use consistent reporting standards and data identifiers, making the information accessible and easily understandable to the public.
“USASpending.gov” currently is operated by the Office of Management and Budget, a part of the White House, at a cost of $7 million. It is a cumbersome and inaccurate database system. The Sunlight Foundation discovered that 2009 reporting by USASpending was inaccurate by $1.3 trillion.
The other system, www.Recovery.gov, was created to follow the $787 billion stimulus program. It costs taxpayers $30 million to operate.
Soon after its launch, “Recovery.gov” became a joke, ridiculed by Congress, government watchdog groups, and even late night talk show hosts. The government site initially claimed federal funds were distributed to 884 congressional districts. In reality, there only are 435 congressional districts in the entire country. The site was filled with federal grants to “phantom” or fictitious congressional districts.
The site also had fictitious information on how many jobs had been generated by the stimulus — an issue that today still dogs the president while the nation suffers from a 9.1% unemployment rate. In October 2009, Vice President Joe Biden relied on Recovery.gov to publicly assert more than 640,000 jobs had been “saved or created” under the Obama stimulus plan. This claim was widely discredited by state government auditors, the media, and even grant recipients. It was later withdrawn as untrue by Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. The true number of jobs created by the stimulus has never been reliably reported.
In releasing the new legislation, Issa said, “Americans have the right to know what their government is doing with their money, including both internal and external expenditures. The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act will revolutionize the conduct of open government.”
Issa argues that the Obama administration, which once promised government-wide openness, has only delivered “analog transparency” that relies on the individual filing of Freedom of Information Act requests. The information, he says, “ought to be able to be derived with a keystroke.”