By SUZANNE DERSHOWITZ
POGO applauds the House of Representatives for passing the bipartisan Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act today, a critical bill that would revolutionize federal spending transparency and help prevent bureaucratic waste, fraud, and abuse. Earlier this week POGO organized an advocacy campaign urging individuals to contact their Representatives in support of the DATA Act (H.R. 2146). Thanks to everyone who took action and kept the pressure on, the House approved the bill by unanimous consent, beating the two-thirds threshold needed for a supermajority vote.
On Monday POGO signed onto a letter with over 20 other organizations calling on the House to pass this landmark transparency bill. Introduced by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) and cosponsored by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and 13 others, the DATA Act would apply the lessons learned from the Recovery Act about transparent reporting of spending across the entire federal government. The Recovery Act requires recipients of Recovery funds to regularly report on how they are using that money. All the data is posted on Recovery.gov so the public can track where all the funds are going at one central website.
How does the DATA Act use Recovery.gov as a model for fostering transparency and accountability in government spending, and why does it matter?
First, the bill would centralize and simplify spending reporting standards so that every government agency reports their spending in the same way. Currently, agencies report this data in hundreds of different formats, making it almost impossible to get a clear picture of how exactly the government spends taxpayer dollars.
Second, instead of relying only on agencies to report how they spend their funds, the DATA Act would also require recipients of federal funds (contractors and grantees) to publicly report how they’re spending the money. Those who receive taxpayer dollars would now bear the responsibility of accounting for their spending.
Finally, the bill establishes an independent commission (with a number of Inspectors General and a presidentially appointed chairperson) modeled after the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. This commission would manage the central website housing all of the information and keep a close eye on federal spending, monitoring fraud, waste, and mismanagement.
The General Services Administration (GSA) scandal certainly lent a sense of urgency to the passage of this measure. If the public had been able to keep track of how this agency was spending taxpayer dollars, GSA officials may not have opted to spend $822,000 to fly 300 bureaucrats to a lavish Las Vegas conference.
So what’s next? Senator Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced a companion bill (S. 1222) in the Senate on June 16, 2011. The bill now has big coattails from the House. POGO will be working with Senate offices to ensure the transformative DATA Act becomes law.
Suzanne Dershowitz is POGO's public policy fellow.
Image via Pete Prodoehl.