Thursday, February 12, 2009

A New Kind of Politics

Here's what I wrote to dozens of Senators and Representatives in Congress just today:

President Obama promised U.S. citizens a new kind of politics. Of course, most of us assumed that meant a "NEW AND IMPROVED" kind, NOT A MORE DEGRADED KIND of politics. Therefore, I am calling upon you to help construct this "new and improved" kind of politics by providing TRANSPARENCY to the U.S. TAXPAYER.

Taxpayers deserve better than being forced to shoulder a package that has been hastily crafted in secret with little opportunity for input from the Congressional minority, let alone the public. Consequently, any compromise emerging from a conference committee should be posted on the Internet in a searchable form for ideally TEN, BUT NO LESS THAN FIVE FULL BUSINESS DAYS before a vote on the conference report can occur.


After a failure to provide accountability and transparency with regard to the “Troubled Asset Relief Program,” and with the passage of this massive spending package becoming more and more likely, Congress and the Administration must work to finally make good on their promises to deliver transparency and accountability when it comes to the implementation of this spending package.

THE TAXPAYER SHOULD BE ABLE TO TRACK - DOLLAR-FOR-DOLLAR - HOW THE GOVERNMENT SPENDS ALL THE APPROPRIATED FUNDS, through grants, contracts and sub-awards through detailed line-item information on expenditures made under these agreements, including access to the actual expenditure documents and all relating documents (the bids, and the terms) in a form that is searchable and downloadable.

Thanks to the passage of the FEDERAL FUNDING AND ACCOUNTABILITY ACT OF 2006, the Federal government already has a website that provides information on federal grants and contracts in the form of That website could provide the general framework for housing data on expenditures made under the “stimulus” package.

All data on expenditures made under this package should be provided in a form that allows users to programmatically search and access all data in a serialized machine readable format via a web-services application programming interface, and users should be able to sort data by categories as well as search and find data by single keyword While both the House and Senate bills currently negotiated in conference committee require “data on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information” be provided online, the language falls short in several areas:

  1. Currently available bill language is lacking clear deadlines by which the required expenditure information needs to be made available. Given the implications of this massive spending package for taxpayers, only real-time posting, or at a minimum making the information available within 24 hours, would do them justice.

  2. Providing information on “jobs created or maintained” can only be an estimate and fails to take into account any jobs that are destroyed as money is taken out of one part of the economy to inject it into another. The expenditure information provided online should be spin-free, so that taxpayers can draw their own conclusions rather than being inundated by propaganda.

  3. Along the same lines, the establishment of an “Accountability and Transparency Board” with oversight functions is not helpful unless the board consists of a diverse group of members, representing the administration, Congress and the private sector as well as different political backgrounds. Reports compiled by a partisan board are of little value to taxpayers.

  4. There is concern that organizations engaging in legally questionable activities may receive funds from the package, so recipients should be required to certify that no funds are being used to directly or indirectly fund illegal activities or the election or defeat of a candidate for political office.

Given that any massive government spending package will burden not only current but future generations of taxpayers, they deserve - at a minimum - full transparency, accountability and taxpayer protections in the process.

What are YOU going to tell them?

P.S. Much of this language came from a petition that you may read here.

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