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Obama and McCain Team Up for Transparency

June 9, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

A couple years ago, Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and John McCain (R-AZ) teamed up with a few other senators to create a free and public website where anybody can get information on all the money the federal government gives out in grants and contracts. The site now exists – – and it’s an awesome resource for understanding trends in federal spending, seeing the federal contracts going to your district, etc. Now, just as the presidential general election gets underway, the competing candidates are teaming up again to make some major improvements to the site.

On June 3rd, the same day that Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination, Obama and McCain, along with Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Tom Carper (D-DE), introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which, according to an Obama press release, would mandate the following improvements to the site:

This Act would expand information on to include:

  • A copy of each Federal contract in both PDF and searchable text format.
  • Details about competitive bidding, the range of technically acceptable bids or proposals, and the profit incentives offered for each contract.
  • The complete amount of money awarded, including any options to expand or extend under a contract.
  • An indication if the Federal award is the result of an earmark.
  • Information about government lease agreements and assignments in the same manner that information is reported for contracts, grants, and other assistance.
  • An assessment of the quality of work performed on Federal awards.
  • Information about Federal audit disputes and resolutions, terminations of Federal awards, suspensions and debarments, and administrative agreements involving Federal award recipients.
  • Information about any civil, criminal, or administrative actions taken against Federal award recipients, including for violations related to the workplace, environmental protection, fraud, securities, and consumer protections.
  • Information about Federal tax compliance by Federal award recipients.
  • Information about parent company ownership that will be made accessible, along with other data on USASpending.GOV, through application programming interfaces.
  • Links to publicly available Government reports.

The Act would improve data quality on through:

  • Improved searchability of data and use of unique award identifiers that prevent the release of sensitive personally identifiable information.
  • A simple method for the public to report errors and track the performance of agencies in confirming or correcting the records for which error reports have been filed.
  • Agency inspectors general review statistically representative samples of agency awards to verify accuracy and compliance with improved data standards.
  • General quality audit of website data every six months, including review and report of public error reporting system and recommendations for new quality standards and procedures

We’re glad these two high-profile senators are coming together, despite their differences, to lend their significant influence a bill that would increase government transparency. Having government information like this available to the public in a complete and searchable format is essential in making our government be more responsible, responsive and relevant.

Moving this kind of public government data online is a relatively recent phenomenon, and improving the way it happens is going to be a continually ongoing process. In December, a couple of us at OpenCongress got together with other open government advocates to develop a set of principles for governments to follow if they are serious about transparency.

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