State of the Union: President Obama Wants Earmark Transparency
Last summer, our very successful earmarks contest brought together data about the more than 40,000 earmark requests members of Congress and senators sought during the appropriations process. We showed that the public wants a look at earmarks and a say in how taxpayer dollars get spent. Here’s our earmarks map and list.
The White House took notice, and in this Federal Computer Week article, an Office of Management and Budget spokesperson said that they would track earmarks from the request stage during the upcoming FY 2011 budget cycle.
Tonight’s state of the union speech had confirmation that the administration will press forward on transparency. In language that the White House sent me ahead of the speech, President Obama said:
I’m also calling on Congress to continue down the path of earmark reform. You have trimmed some of this spending and embraced some meaningful change. But restoring the public trust demands more. For example, some members of Congress post some earmark requests online. Tonight, I’m calling on Congress to publish all earmark requests on a single website before there’s a vote so that the American people can see how their money is being spent.
It’s great to see focus in an important speech on earmark transparency, and it’s a tribute to the people who made our earmarks contest a success.
Two important clarifications: A web site would be fine, but it’s more important to make the data available to web sites like ours. And if Congress doesn’t do it, the Office of Management and Budget should gather the data as it said it would.
I’m happy to report that a fact sheet put out by the White House says: “It’s time for a comprehensive, bipartisan, state-of-the-art disclosure database that allows Americans to examine the details of every proposed earmark before a vote is taken—one that is fully searchable and otherwise user-friendly.” That’s good. What we want is earmark data.
In the next few weeks, we’ll be providing the White House and the appropriations committees the data schema that we recommend they use in their earmark tracking. Hopefully, this will help them implement the president’s promise, and it will help ensure that the data is the most useful it can be.
In the meantime, congratulations to the WashingtonWatch.com earmark hunters who helped press this genuine change on our government. Thanks are due the president and White House staff for working to follow through on this promise.
Transparency like this is good legislative hygiene, and the example we set here will be picked up elsewhere in the legislative process as we continue to make the government better.