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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, September 14, 2006

Web site to look at Congress' spending

By Jim Abrams
Associated Press

HOW IT WILL WORK

Details on the federal spending Web site to be created by legislation being considered by Congress:

• The Office of Management and Budget is to create the Web site by Jan. 1, 2008.

• Users will be able to see information under grant and contract categories.

• Users can type in the name of a company, a nonprofit group, an association, a state or a locality.

• Users will be provided with information on grants, contracts, subcontracts, loans, awards, cooperative agreements, purchase orders, delivery orders and other forms of financial assistance.

• Information on the award will include the transaction type, the funding agency and a description of the purpose of each funding action.

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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.