A lot of people think the idea behind Senate Bill S2590 makes some sense. Optimistically titled the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, it is sponsored by Senators Tom Coburn and Barak Obama, and a growing list of prominent co-sponsors. It's legislation that would create a single website with a searchable database and access to information on nearly all recipients of federal funding.
Any transparency and accountability is better than none, right? It would mean useful information for the public on how their tax dollars are being spent, all at relatively low cost...for a government program. Congress wants this like they want a root canal.
Federal Times.com reports:
An unknown number of senators have blocked legislation to create a public, searchable Web site of all federal grants and contracts. Senate rules permit any senator to anonymously block consideration of a bill on the floor, effectively killing the measure.
So Porkbusters is admirably stepping into the fray with a site devoted to finding out by process of elimination who the Secret Holder is. (Note: I am not associated with Porkbusters.org in any way, other than to value and appreciate what they are trying to do.)
As for Ohio, it turns out that both Sen. Voinovich and Sen. DeWine are co-sponsors of the bill. I spoke to a staffer (George) at Sen. Voinovich's office Friday and he told me he thought that the senator was a co-sponsor, and so doubted that he would have put a hold on the bill, but promised to get back to me with more definitive information.
He called me back today and left a voicemail which I quote in part:
I have three pieces of information for you. First, Senator Voinovich is a co-sponsor of the bill... second, we definitely do not have a hold on the bill... and third, we have no idea who has a hold on the bill.
Voinovich was a no-brainer on this thing. He's always had something of a reputation as a deficit hawk.
I also spoke with a staffer (Peter) at Sen. DeWine's office, and he also assumed the Senator was on board with S2590 but asked me to call him back Wednesday for a definitive answer. Then I got an email reply from the Senator this evening:
Thank you for contacting me regarding the Federal Funding Accountability
and Transparency Act of 2006. I agree that it is important to have
transparency with respect to the disbursement of federal grants which is
why I have decided to co-sponsor this legislation.
As you know, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act would create a searchable database of all recipients of federal grants, contracts, loans, and other types of financial assistance. This database would be accessible by the public at no cost via the Office of Management and Budget's website and would include information regarding each entity that receives federal funding, the amount received, how the money is being used, and where the entity is located.
This bill was introduced by Senator Coburn and is currently pending
consideration before the full Senate. I look forward to voting in favor
of this legislation should it come to a vote.
Again, thank you for contacting me. If you have any additional concerns,
please feel free to contact me anytime.
Very respectfully yours,
United States Senator
Very cordial and helpful guys in both offices, by the way, George and Peter.
Note that DeWine doesn't actually deny that he is the "secret holder", but I think this puts him in the clear too, no?
More calls to these guys would be preaching to the converted. Call somebody else's Senator if you live in Ohio.
Of course, what Senator is going to admit to his constituents that he opposes a bill which would increase government transparency in spending? The beauty, apparently, of the "secret hold", is that nobody ever gets to know who did it. Senate rules.
The Federal Times column linked above says that House and Senate versions of the bill are being reconciled by negotiation in committee. So all the Congressmen are getting together to decide what information we will be permitted to see, and how, and when. It's hard to get excited about that. But it's something.