Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006

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On April 6, 2006, Sens. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Barack Obama (D-Ill.), John McCain (R-Ariz.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.) introduced the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (S.2590). The bill would require the Office of Management and Budget to create a searchable online database of all governments contracts and has been hailed as a "Google" for federal spending. The bill was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2006, and created the websites ExpectMore.gov and USAspending.gov.

(See larger Congresspedia page on earmarks)

Contents

Bill status


Similar legislation in the House

On June 21, 2006, before S.2590 had been debated in the Senate, the House passed a bill to amend the Federal Financial Assistance Management Improvement Act of 1999 by a voice vote. Specifically, it would establish a public database on the Internet to track federal grants. The director of the Office of Management and Budget would be directed to work with other agencies to ensure that the information was available to the public on a single web site within 30 days of the grant being awarded. The site would include the following for each grant[1]:

  • The name of the grantee and sub-grantees who have received the award
  • An itemized breakdown of that assistance by agency and program source
  • All awards a grantee has received for the past 10 years
  • A list of dates and amounts of federal financial assistance awards to the grantee[2]

Contents of S.2590

Many considered the House bill to be too limited in its scope. While it limits disclosure requirements to government grants, S.2590 calls for a free, searchable online database of the following types of government spending:

  • Contracts
  • Grants, block grants, formula grants, and project grants
  • Cooperative Agreements
  • Loans
  • Direct Payments for specified and unrestricted use
  • Insurance
  • Indirect financial assistance

The database would begin on January 1, 2007 and beginning on October 1, 2007, would also include subcontracts and subgrants. All data would be able to be downloaded by viewers.

Within 30 days of awarding contracts, the following information must be published to the website:

  • Funding recipient name
  • Amount of federal funding recipient has received over the past 10 years
  • A list of each transaction with the recipient
  • Location of the recipient and primary location of performance
  • A unique identifier for each recipient

Consideration by the Senate

"Secret" holds

On July 27, 2006, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security & Governmental Affairs approved the bill unanimously. While it was placed on the Senate calendar on August 2, the bill was prevented from reaching the floor by Sens. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who each put anonymous holds on it. For weeks, it was uncertain which senator(s) had placed the holds. In response, many in the blogging community contacted senatorial offices in an attempt to pin down the “secret” holders. By August 30, 2006, denials were obtained by 98 senators, leaving only Stevens and Byrd.[3] On this date, a spokesperson for Stevens admitted that the seven-term senator had a hold on the legislation. He explained that Stevens merely wanted the bill delayed until he was convinced that it would not create another unnecessary layer of government bureaucracy.[4]

There were also reports by some that Stevens may have been acting in retaliation. In 2005, Coburn placed a hold on a Stevens’ bill concerning ocean research, arguing that it was too expensive. In addition, Coburn was a vocal opponent of the $223 million appropriation that Stevens advocated for a bridge connecting two sparsely-populated Alaskan islands (commonly known as the "Bridge to nowhere").[5]

On August 31, a spokesperson for Byrd confirmed his hold in a statement. It noted that the senator, “wanted time to read the legislation, understand its implications, and see whether the proposal could be improved.” Upon issuing the statement, Byrd announced that he was releasing his hold.[6]

In the week that followed, Stevens dropped his hold, reinstated it, and then dropped it yet again. There were also rumors during this time that another Democrat had placed a hold on the bill.[7] This, however, was never substantiated.

Response

In the days surrounding the search and revelation of the anonymous holders, leaders from both major political parties expressed displeasure with those keeping the bill from the floor. DNC Chairman Howard Dean singled out Stevens, blaming him for “the wasteful mess that he and his party have made of the federal budget.”[8] Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) criticized those involved, calling it “deeply ironic” that legislation designed to remove anonymity from earmarks was being stopped by secret holds. Frist then declared that he would bring the legislation to the floor “hold or no hold.” As majority leader, he did indeed have the power to go forward with the bill regardless of any outstanding holds on it.[9]

Passage

By September 7, all holds were removed from S.2590 and the Senate finally considered it. By this point, 40 senators had co-sponsored the legislation.[10] It passed unanimously by a voice vote that night.[11]

Consideration by the House

The following day, House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and House Committee on Government Reform Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va.), along with Senate bill sponsors Coburn, Obama, McCain and Carper, announced that they had reached an agreement on the legislation. House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) promised to schedule a floor vote on the bill the following week.[12]

On September 13, the House passed S.2590 by a voice vote.[13]

Support from President Bush

The night that the House passed the bill, President Bush issued a statement saying that the “legislation demonstrates Congress’ commitment to giving the American people access to timely and accurate information about how their tax dollars are spent.”[14] He indicated that he will sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.[15]

Passage into law

On September 26, 2006, President George W. Bush signed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act into law, stating that "...We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort collecting your money, and we should show the same amount of effort in reporting how we spend it. Every year, the federal government issues more than $400 billion in grants, and more than $300 billion in contracts to corporations, associations, and state and local governments. Taxpayers have a right to know where that money is going, and you have a right to know whether or not you're getting value for your money."[16]

Articles and resources

See also

References

  1. Matthew Weigelt. "Legislation would put grant info on Web," FCW. April 3, 2006.
  2. Matthew Weigelt. "Legislation would put grant info on Web," FCW. April 3, 2006.
  3. Paul Kiel and Justin Rood. "Is a Dem Also Holding Up the Porkbusting Bill?," TPM Muckraker. August 31, 2006.
  4. Paul Kiel."'Masked' Bill-Blocker Reveals Self," TPM Muckraker. August 30, 2006.
  5. Emily Pierce. "Coburn Freely Placing Holds," Roll Call (via Neoperspectives). June 23, 2005.
  6. Paul Kiel."Byrd Confirms "Secret Hold" on Porkbusting Bill -- And Drops It," TPM Muckraker. August 31, 2006.
  7. Elana Schor. "Senate hold, GOP tension stall transparency measure," The Hill. September 7, 2006.
  8. Elana Schor. "Senate hold, GOP tension stall transparency measure," The Hill. September 7, 2006.
  9. Elana Schor. "Senate hold, GOP tension stall transparency measure," The Hill. September 7, 2006.
  10. "THOMAS page on S.2590 cosponsors," THOMAS.
  11. Bill Allison. "Coburn-Obama Disclosure Bill Passes Senate," Sunlight Foundation. September 7, 2006.
  12. Bill Allison. "House, Senate Agree on Federal Spending Database; Bill Must Still Pass House," Sunlight Foundation. September 8, 2006.
  13. Paul Kiel, "Pork Database Bill Passes House," TPM Muckraker, September 14, 2006.
  14. "President Bush Applauds House Passage of S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006," The White House. September 13, 2006.
  15. Paul Kiel, "Pork Database Bill Passes House," TPM Muckraker, September 14, 2006.
  16. "President Bush Signs Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act," The White House. September 26, 2006.

External resources

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