Senate Committee Proposes Transparency Cuts
by Sam Rosen-Amy, 9/16/2011
There’s a grand tradition in DC: the Friday afternoon news dump. Press secretaries from across the District save up any bad news, and then release it on Friday after the major news deadlines have passed. That way, articles won’t show up until the weekend, when most people aren't paying attention. In yet another example of this, the Senate Appropriations Committee, responsible for the government’s yearly funding bills, released four bills this afternoon, all of which had passed out of committee yesterday. And, sure enough, there, buried in one of the bills, is the Senate effectively slashing funding for transparency projects.
The cut in question is to the Electronic Government fund, which pays for projects such as USAspending.gov and the IT Dashboard (more about the fund and the effect of cuts here). The fund is overseen by the General Services Administration (GSA), specifically the same team which manages USA.gov, the federal government’s main information portal. Earlier this year, Congress cut the E-Gov fund from $34 million to $8 million, drastically reducing the fund’s ability to maintain current transparency tools, never mind create new ones.
The resulting outcry was heartening. A broad coalition of transparency and good-government groups pressed Congress to restore the funding, and Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) called the cuts “penny wise and pound foolish.”
A few months ago, the House of Representatives responded to the criticism in their appropriations bill by partially restoring the funding. The House bill combined the E-Gov fund with the Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies (OCSIT), the GSA unit responsible for the E-Gov fund, and increased the new joint fund by $8 million. While this move increased the total level of funding to $50 million, the two funds used to have a combined budget of $71 million and President Obama called for $74 million for the two funds this year, so the total funding for important transparency projects was cut by about 30 percent.
The Senate appropriators' proposal released today reduces this funding even more, to $39 million for next year. Like the House, the Senate's bill also combines the two GSA funds, but it leaves the joint fund $3 million lower than the total amount allocated to the two funds this year, $42 million. This means there could be less money next year for projects such as Data.gov or Performance.gov, sites which allow public access to federal data sets and program performance information, and which help make the government more open and accessible.
It's unfortunate the Senate Appropriations Committee is trying to cut spending for transparency projects, some of which save the government millions of dollars a year and could easily pay for themselves, and even worse that it did so when it thought no one was looking. Ironically, at a time when Congress is scrounging for every last penny, both houses are about to underfund the very tools that will tell them how federal money is being spent.
The E-Gov fund should have robust funding to give the American people the transparency they deserve. The full Senate still needs to approve the bill, and OMB Watch strongly encourages it to restore the full amount of funding from the president's request.