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July 18, 2006
Pork Database Hearing: Live Blog

I'm watching the Senate hearing on the bill that Senator Tom Coburn has pushed to get a searchable database on federal funding. I got to it a little late -- Senator John McCain just started his testimony now

1:42 CT - He's quoting from today's Washington Post about a rancher who found himself stunned to be eligible for federal relef after the space shuttle Columbia disaster -- and those funds came from a drought fund!

1:46 - McCain finishes up by noting that the only reason to refuse this database is to admit that government has something to hide. McCain has certainly taken the right approach on this, but I'm not sure that his anecdotes really get to the heart of the problem. Perhaps it is impolite to mention it, but the real reason isn't to keep ranchers from getting drought funds they don't deserve, but to keep politicians from approving pork-barrel spending that doesn't benefit the nation.

1:48 - Barack Obama now speaks. He says that the vast majority of government spending is beneficial, but that a significant amount is "embarrassing."

1:51 - Obama talks about procurement issues, such as paying 15 times market value for tarps in New Orleans. That's a problem too, but I'm not sure it's apt for this discussion. The database will not likely reveal much about that process that isn't already known. He does say that transparency isn't enough, but it's a start, and it's an absolute requirement.

1:54 - Obama: "Any agency that does not believe in transparency should not have responsibility for taxpayer money.

1:55 - McCain and Obama both note that the people have a right to know which contractors and grantees get federal monies and what they do with it.

1:56 - No one should get federal money, "no questions asked", Obama says. Amen.

2:01 - So far, no one on the committee has voiced any objection to the bill. Right now, Susan Collins has just remarked that some people might find themselves pleased with the various programs and spending in the federal budget. This, of course, has been one of the liberal arguments for the bill; it will convince people that government assistance provides an overall benefit above its cost. As I wrote earlier, at least we will all be arguing from the same set of facts. McCain and Obama agree with Collins.

2:06 - Of course, we get the digs in at the Department of Defense. I hear a Halliburton reference coming ...

2:10 - Obama notes that we will still need to address entitlement spending, but thanks to the explosion of pork-barrel spending, no one trusts Congress to address it honestly. He also says that the idea that Congress has a budget process is a fallacy; it's a "loose, haphazard stew". Not a very tasty one at that, either, but then again I've never liked pork stew.

2:16 - The second panel, with my friend Mark Tapscott, has just taken their seats. Mark has already posted his opening statement at his blog. OMB Watch supports the bill, but wants to see improvements now or in the future -- but they want it passed ASAP.

2:20 - OMB Watch wants focus on four points: front-end quality, data quality, complete data, sub-recipient reporting -- subcontractors, subgrantees, etc. Obama and McCain pointed out the latter as well. OMB Watch says this is a building block, and they're right.

2:25 - Eric Brenner from Maryland's grant office notes that the effort has been worth the trouble in their state.

2:27 - Mark's testifying right now. How would this improve journalism? Mark says it will have the same effect as had on reporting -- the open information will allow much better analysis, and keep a better grip in corruption.

2:30 - The sound cut out just as Mark began talking about blogging. It's a Halliburton conspiracy!

2:33 - OMB Watch says that corruption has mainly been on the contract side, not grants, but that Katrina's aftermath shows that the potential exists through both channels. The connection is now getting very choppy, and I may not be able to get much more of this hearing, unfortunately.

2:38 - OMB Watch wants a user group to help develop the front end. I'd love to apply for that job.

2:41 - Gary Bass has taken the hearing into a very technical discussion about the type of monies involved in tracking the spending.

2:42 - Dr. Coburn: "Every contractor, every grantee will have to know how the money is spent -- and they should!" Amen again.

2:47 - Mark points out that the technical issues do not seem to impede the private sector from building the exact same kind of databases.

2:50 - Hearing adjourned. I think Mark didn't get much of an opportunity to add his thoughts on journalism and blogging, and what effect it would have on spreading sunlight on the appropriations process. In fact, it seemed to me that everyone avoided the word "corruption", probably because it would seem impolitic to talk about it with politicians present. Dr. Coburn came across as very determined to see this project through to fruition.

Don't forget to write your Representative and Senator in support of this project.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 18, 2006 1:40 PM

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