OMB Memo Seeks to Improve Spending Transparency in Near- and Long-Terms

The Office and Management and Budget (OMB) issued a memo (PDF) today under President Obama's Open Government Directive that features a handful of goodies for federal spending transparency aficionados.

First, the memo by Chief Performance Officer Jeffrey Zients is about improving data quality and publishing sub-recipient contract and grant data on the federal government's spending website, Significantly, the memo indicates that agencies will be required to report contract and grant data on sub-recipients to by Oct. 1 of this year. Although this was required by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (PDF) to have been implemented before 2009, it is certainly welcome news that a plan to accomplish it is being executed by the executive branch.

The memo also addresses two other aspects of Agencies are "to improve the timeliness, completeness, and accuracy of Federal spending information" and OMB will launch "new tools and capabilities" to enhance the "technological capabilities of" According to the memo, the enhanced version of will be online in the spring, and we here at OMB Watch are eager to see where the government's taken the concept (and software) upon which is built.

But there's something more in the memo's cover letter. OMB is looking much further into future than Oct. 1 and has bigger plans than refining an existing reporting system.

A clear lesson from the Federal government’s experience with the website is that, given the numerous stakeholders involved in the federal spending process and the complexity of underlying systems, all efforts to improve transparency must include thoughtful consideration of the costs and benefits of various implementation approaches. This consideration should be guided by a long-range vision of how optimal transparency will be achieved.

In order to foster additional collaboration and partnership with the public, we will solicit input on current transparency initiatives, the challenges and burdens faced by stakeholders in increasing transparency, technical and logistical obstacles, and additional efforts to improve federal spending transparency.

This "long-range vision of how optimal transparency will be achieved" will be crucial in laying groundwork for achieving true transparency in federal spending. I know I have some ideas about how this can happen, and I bet you do too. We'll keep you posted as this process unfolds.

Image by Flickr user [phil h] used under a Creative Commons license.

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