Cumberland Times-News

November 20, 2013

Transparency

Spending accountability measure sails through House


Cumberland Times-News

— Making spending by Congress more transparent to taxpayers is something all of us can get behind. Indeed, the U.S. House passed legislation to that effect Tuesday by a vote of 388 to 1.

The proposal is known as the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act and seeks to require agencies to use uniform coding for federal spending data so that internal auditors and watchdog groups can more easily compare how one agency is spending its money versus another.

The bill would also force improvements to the federal spending transparency website USASpending.gov, making it easier for external watchdogs to track and compare how tax dollars are spent across federal agencies.

Currently, many government agencies use different coding systems for spending items even within the same agency, and different agencies may refer to the same vendor using a different name, such as General Motors rather than GM.

To appreciate the depth of the problem, consider a report by The Sunlight Foundation that  identified more than $900 billion in unreported or misreported spending on the government’s main spending transparency site, USASpending.gov, in 2011.

The foundation is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that describes its goal as seeking changes in the law to require real-time, online transparency for all government information, with a special focus on the political money flow and who tries to influence government and how government responds.

Confusion over how much is spent — and what the money was used for — along with auditing errors and a generally skewed picture of Congress’ handling of taxpayer money have been chronic problems. If the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act is given Senate approval and sent to the president for signature into law, taxpayers may better understand just how their tax dollars are being spent.