DATA Act Would be a Setback for Spending Transparency
by Craig Jennings, 6/21/2011
It has been a whirlwind 8 days since Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) introduced a bill to reform federal spending transparency. On June 13, Issa introduced the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), held a hearing the next day, and will mark up the bill tomorrow in his Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
A number of organizations, including OMB Watch, that follow federal spending transparency were excited about the bill, even though it was moving at too rapid a pace for such a complex bill. Several organizations, including OMB Watch, gave Issa’s staff mark ups of the bill. The Issa substitute, which will be considered tomorrow, was published earlier today.
The version being marked up tomorrow is a bill that would be a significant setback for spending transparency. Accordingly, OMB Watch opposes the DATA Act as it is currently written. We hope the bill will be improved and that ultimately we can support it.
Here is the main reason why we oppose it. The bill repeals the Coburn-Obama law that created USAspending.gov. In repealing the Coburn-Obama law, the revised Issa bill misses important elements. But even more shocking, the Issa bill sunsets in 7 years. That’s right...no website at all if Congress does not reauthorize it on time!
At the heart of the Issa bill are two elements. First, it converts the Recovery Act Board into a new independent oversight board to deter government-wide waste and fraud. Second, the new board would create at least one new website on government spending. While OMB Watch does not object in principle to this approach, we do object to sunsetting the Issa bill in 7 years. This means that the new board, the website that replaces USAspending, and all the oversight will also expire if not renewed by Congress. That is not how democracy and accountability should work.
OMB Watch has advocated for increased fiscal transparency issues for years and does not oppose this effort lightly. OMB Watch developed FedSpending.org, a website that allows users to more easily review trillions of dollars in federal contract and award data in 2006. The programming from the project was subsequently licensed to the government to serve as the launching point for USASpending.gov. The organization also offered ongoing input to the transparency efforts around the Recovery.gov site.
OMB Watch will develop a more complete analysis of the Issa bill after it is marked up tomorrow. We hope that version of the bill will ensure strong and permanent transparency provisions are protected. Until then, we will continue to oppose the bill.