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Thursday, December 13, 2007

Now Americans Can See Where Their Money Goes

Americans have never had a completely transparent way to see exactly how our Government was spending our money.

We do now.

Heritage, of course, is a conservative think tank and OMB Watch is a liberal advocacy group, but we found that we shared a passionate belief that taxpayers ought to be able to see how the government is spending their tax dollars and that the Internet was perfectly suited for providing the needed tool to make such transparency a reality.

Nothing in the way of an official collaboration came from that discussion, but it was still the start of an informal working relationship that helped pave the wave for the Internet-based coalition that ultimately proved indispensable in winning passage of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) and the establishment of a landmark new web site,, a relaunch of, that provides citizens with easy access to government contract, grant and other award data.

Online, easy to search, and free, federal budget transparency as the Washington Post calls it.

The original OMB Watch has proved to provide information about earmarks aka pork, grants, any form of spending of your tax dollars can be researched from beginning to end.

This was a collaborative effort by Robert Shea, associate director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Gary Bass who is a government watchdog who wants transparency and knows how to get it.

USASpending allows users to search by contracts and grants, contractor names, congressional districts and lawmakers. The data can be easily downloaded and used. A "wiki" function gives users a chance to suggest changes and add information. Charts and rankings show to whom and where the bulk of federal dollars go.

The site goes further than the law demands, posting information every two weeks rather than every month and providing information on whether the contracts were subject to competitive bidding.

For those that write about politics, this will be an invaluable resource for research into where American taxpayer money goes.

The Examiner has an in depth editorial called "The pig roast is almost over" where they call today a milestone, which it is, milestone because, as President Bush noted when he signed FFATA into law Sept. 26: “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. … 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.”

What made this possible was the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006, which was sponsored by Sen. Barack Obama, (D-Il) and Sen. Tom Coburn, (R-Ok), which requires a single searchable website, accessible by the public for free that includes for each Federal award:

1. The name of the entity receiving the award;
2. The amount of the award;
3. Information on the award including transaction type, funding agency, etc;
4. The location of the entity receiving the award;
5. A unique identifier of the entity receiving the award.

Testing the accessibility of this site as well as how easy it was to use, I clicked the Contracts tab at the top of the page, then for no specific reason, just to test the site, I chose the "By Place of Performance" Category, chose Barney Frank of Mass. and it automatically brought up this page.

The information on that page includes: The summary for Fiscal Year 2006, released on 6/12/07, you can also change your search criteria, it lists the total amount of money spent, the Congressional rank of the district, total number of contractors, total number of transactions, a graph showing the extent of the competition (bidders), top 5 products or services sold, top 5 contracting agencies purchasing from contractors, top 10 contractors, and a graph of trends going back to the year 2000.

You can also search by contractor, contracting agency, which includes all our Government agencies, years, etc..

The complete statement from Sen. Tom Coburn and Barack Obama from Tapscott's Copy Desk:

Coburn lauded bloggers as "the key group in getting this done," and predicted that "somebody is going to correlate FEC reports, the earmarks database and this database, and that's what this is about, holding us accountable." He encouraged bloggers to "get out there and start using this. I think it's going to be a wildfire."

In a separate joint statement with Coburn, Sen. Barack Obama, D-IL, who was the first co-sponsor of FFATA, said the site "helps us achieve a very simple and powerful vision, a vision that in a democracy, people ought to know how their government is operating. This isn't a Democratic vision or a Republican vision. It's a vision that rejects the idea that government actions and decisions should be kept secret."

Accountability and transparency on how our money is spent by our Government. It is, indeed, a milestone moment.