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The New York Times reports today on the burgeoning bipartisan demand for full disclosure on federal spending via public, searchable databases that would expose pork to the maximum public scrutiny. Jason DeParle reports that while both the Left and the Right have different motivations, both see a fully searchable database for the federal budget as a promise of more accountability in governance:
Exasperated by his party's failure to cut government spending, Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, is seeking cyberhelp.
Mr. Coburn wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants — exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view. ...
On the right, support for the plan reflects an old concern about spending and a new faith in the power of blogs. Supporters picture a citizen army of e-watchdogs, greatly increasing the influence of antispending groups in Washington.
"Now that you've got the Internet, you'll have tens of thousands of watchdogs," said Bridgett G. Wagner of the Heritage Foundation, who is leading a coalition of conservative groups that support the Coburn bill. "That's what people see in it."
Among the bill's leading supporters is Mark Tapscott, the editorial page editor of The Washington Examiner, who has promoted it there and on his blog, Tapscott's Copy Desk. While most spending is already a matter of public record, Mr. Tapscott argues that it is often buried in obscure documents. ...
A number of blogs popular among conservatives have praised Mr. Coburn's bill. Instapundit, among the most popular, has pushed it. Seeker Blog called it "the best news I've heard out of D.C. this year." Captain's Quarters demanded "Give us the Pork Database," and Porkopolis hailed the measure with the slogan, "Show Me the Money."
It's nice to get recognized, but the Times rightly focuses on the work of Mark and Bridgett. Both have tirelessly worked to get national attention to the corrupting influence of pork -- as well as entitlement spending, which has gained less traction -- and every day do more to shine sunlight on pork-barrel politics. Had it not been for Bridgett and Mark, I know I would have had a difficult time finding my voice on this topic, and I'm honored to work with them. Glenn Reynolds and NZ Bear have taken the lead in organizing blogger efforts, and Bill Allison at Sunlight Foundation has given an excellent effort from the Left.
DeParle notes the differing motivations of the Right and Left in supporting this initiative. Conservatives see this as a shaming mechanism that will shrink government through public outrage. Liberals see it as a way to demonstrate the good works that government programs perform and to get more funding for them. Both of these are honorable motivations and both represent excellent reasons to have this data at the fingertips of every taxpayer in America. After all, we want to know which dollars work for us and which don't. If we have a program that actually does more good than harm, then we can have those facts established when we debate its funding level. If we see the money disappearing with little or no return on the investment, we can either halt the program or get everyone responsible for it replaced with people who will perform better.
This provides everyone with an equal understanding of the facts. It informs the American voter of the real consequences of his choices. Both liberals and conservatives should have nothing but support for such a system.
As a conservative, I fully expect that a pork database, properly set up, will wind up shaming our elected officials into severely curtailing their earmarks, especially when combined with a public reporting system of political contributions and financial disclosures such as the site Open Secrets. I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.
However, one effort has already begun to hamstring the database. Rep. Thomas Davis (R-VA) wants to exclude contracts from the database, limiting it to only grants. Liberals have cried foul on this proposition, and rightly so. Pork does not limit itself to grants, and corruption does not limit itself to non-profit groups. We need to access data on contractual awards in order to get sunlight on sweetheart earmarks to corporate contributors. That kind of relationship formed the heart of the corruption case of Randy "Duke" Cunningham, who pushed through millions of dollars in contacts in return for kickbacks from the companies that received them. Any reform that does not include contractual awards is a sham and a farce. Davis may mean well, but his explanation that competitive bidding takes the corruption out of the process is either laughably naive or cynically deceptive.
We need to continue to press for this database in order to force Congress to adopt real accountability for their actions. Until we have that, no reform effort endorsed by Congress will gain us anything. Accountability will give us leverage to insist on further reforms and produce the kind of leaders we can eventually trust with the power we give them.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» Traceable Political Money Is A Good Thing from A Short Course in Chaos
Captain Ed points out an early initiative in Congress that would create a database of a significant portion of total government spending and make that information available online for all to peruse ... Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea. Whil... [Read More]
Tracked on July 3, 2006 9:19 PM
» Traceable Political Money Is A Good Thing from A Short Course In Chaos
Captain Ed points out an early initiative in Congress that would create a database of a significant portion of total government spending and make that information available online for all to peruse.... Personally, I think this is a fantastic idea. Whil... [Read More]
Tracked on July 3, 2006 9:35 PM
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