Recovery Act Shapes Push for More Federal Spending Transparency

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(This post originally appeared on the States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery blog).

Last month, Recovery.gov Director Michael Wood mentioned that Congress, the White House and the Inspectors General community were all behind using the Recovery Act’s landmark transparency measures as a model for broader federal disclosure.  Now that support has led to action; in coordinated efforts, the executive and legislative branches each signaled this week that they are serious about improving federal spending transparency based on some of the institutions and procedures that were created to track Recovery Act funds.

On June 13, President Obama issued an executive order creating a Government Accountability and Transparency Board, modeled after the Recovery Board, which will “provide strategic direction for enhancing the transparency of Federal spending and advance efforts to detect and remediate fraud, waste, and abuse in Federal programs.”  That same day, Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, introduced the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act), which also calls for the creation of an independent agency to track federal spending that is based on the Recovery Board.  Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Senate version of the DATA Act on June 16.

Our friends at OMB Watch have already broken down some of the pros and cons of the DATA Act, but here are some key aspects of the legislation:

  • The new agency, known as the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency (FAST) Board, would take over the responsibilities of the Recovery Board.  The FAST Board would oversee all federal spending disclosure and take over USAspending.gov from the Office of Management and Budget.
  • The DATA Act would create common data elements and reporting standards and a single web-based platform for publishing all federal spending information.
  • The reporting requirements would apply to all recipients of federal funds except for those individuals who, during that calendar year or fiscal year, have received less than $100,000 and were not involved in a transaction of $25,000 or more.
  • The FAST Board would collect both recipient-reported data and agency-reported data, and would work with the agencies to investigate any incongruities.  OMB Watch proposes that the DATA Act include Treasury Department data instead of less accurate agency-reported data.
  • The DATA Act does not address federal tax expenditures.
  • The DATA Act would sunset on September 30, 2018, and would repeal the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, the legislation sponsored by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) and then-Sen. Obama that created USAspending.gov.  OMB Watch argues that “[i]t is a bad idea to repeal a permanent law and replace it with a temporary law,” and that Congress should instead amend the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act to include the DATA Act’s recipient reporting and data standardization provisions.

It remains to be seen what the final version of this legislation will look like.  But with strong bipartisan support for transparency in Washington, the prospects for meaningful progress are bright, thanks in no small part to the Recovery Act.

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