December 13, 2007

Era Of Open Government Commencing

The long-awaited opening of the federal budget to Internet researchers has arrived. The new website envisioned and enabled by the Coburn-Obama Act in 2006 has officially launched at, offered by the government and designed by OMB Watch. The Washington Post reports on the creation of the site:

Robert Shea is a Republican insider with a head for business and a yen for federal program performance standards. Gary Bass is a government watchdog with a mean bite who wants openness and knows how to get it.

Official antagonists, political opposites, brought together by a wild, crazy idea: federal budget transparency. Online and searchable. Free for the asking.

Today, the White House budget office officially launches, a Web site that shows taxpayers where their dollars go and which legislators, contractors and regions get the most.

The site was created by Shea, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget. It was modeled on a site pioneered by Bass, director of OMB Watch, one of the budget office's harshest nonprofit critics.

Why has this become reality? Pressure from anti-pork activists, clean government interest groups, and critics of government inefficiency resulted in an election-year victory. The timing seems more providential than it did at the time; the election itself produced a lot of reform promises with few real deliveries.

This effectively replaces the FedSpending site run by OMB Watch until now. I cannot tell you how valuable that tool has been to this blogger, and many others besides. The ability to research contract and grant histories with concise, centralized data gives us powerful information for explaining many of the political stories of the day. It strips the darkness from earmarking processes as well as normal legislative efforts that tend to benefit the benefactors of politicians, rather than the national constituency. It may not be fascinating for the ordinary web surfer, but OMB Watch's site has been an essential tool for bloggers.

Congratulations should go to all of the people and organizations involved in this effort, including OMB Watch and the Sunlight Foundation. Special kudos go to Mark Tapscott, who relentlessly pursued the political effort to open government for most of his career, and continues it to this day.


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