Web site to look at Congress' spending
By Jim Abrams
By Jim Abrams
WASHINGTON — Curious about how much of your money is going to encourage hydroponic tomato production in Ohio — or to build bridges to nowhere in Alaska? A user-friendly Web site is going to help you find out.
The House yesterday passed and sent to the White House a measure to create a Google-like search engine that will help interested citizens, as well as advocacy groups, track some $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, special projects and loans.
The Office of Management and Budget is to create the database, with a Jan. 1, 2008, target for opening it to the public.
"This is a huge victory for all who believe sunshine is the best disinfectant," said House Government Reform Committee Chairman Tom Davis, R-Va., on the uncontested voice vote.
"This bill will make tracking government spending easier for citizens, reporters and legislators alike," the Senate sponsors, Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., said in a statement. "Improving transparency will force lawmakers to be more accountable to the American people."
Passage allows lawmakers to claim some success in making government more open. The House is also expected to vote on a rules change this week to bring more openness to "earmarks," or special projects. But a main legislative objective this year, lobbying reform in the wake of the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, has languished.
The legislation drew praise from President Bush, who said in a statement that it "builds on existing administration initiatives to help ensure federal agencies clearly reflect how they spend the taxpayers' money."
Users will be able to type in "Halliburton" or "Planned Parenthood" to find out what kind of contracts or grants over $25,000 have been awarded such companies or groups.
They can also do a search for a specific state or district to see what kind of money is flowing from Washington.
They could check on earmarks in a highway bill last year such as the $200 million approved for a bridge in a sparsely populated area of Alaska or the defense contracts that proved the undoing of former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham. The California Republican was sentenced to eight years in prison earlier this year for taking bribes in exchange for steering contracts to a company.
House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo., a sponsor, said the Web site will give people a better look at the spending of some $300 billion in grants every year for some 30,000 organizations. He said it would help publicize questionable grants.