U.S. House Passes Bill on Spending Transparency

26 April 2012

The U.S. House of Representatives April 25 easily passed a bill (HR 2416) to standardize the reporting requirements for recipients of federal grants, loans and contracts.

The potential uniformity is seen as a way to improve oversight of government spending and was supported by open government advocates and a new industry coalition.

The bill would mandate common data identifiers and electronic reporting, with fines for those who fail to provide accurate data.  A new Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board would be created to establish standards, set up a public database and do reports on spending.  The bill contains an authorization for a $51 million budget, but that level would have to appropriated, a separate process. A similar process was used to oversee the spending of economic recovery funds several years ago.

“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,” explained a blog post by the Project on Government Oversight.  The act “would also require recipients of federal funds (contractors and grantees) to publicly report how they’re spending the money,” POGO stressed.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act was introduced in June 2011 by Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).  A similar bill (S. 1222) has been introduced in the Senate, but is not been given committee consideration.  A spending scandal at the General Services Administration, which handles government acquisitions, sparked interest in the bill.

Groups such as the Project on Government Oversight and the Sunlight Foundation backed the measure, as did information technology companies that recently formed a Data Transparency Coalition. The group said a blog post explaining its foundation that financial regulatory reporting isn’t standardized, so companies “must submit the same information many times.”

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