Giving Taxpayers More Details on Where Their Money Is Going Would Come at Its Own Cost

Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., is one sponsor of the Taxpayers Right to Know Act. Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., is one sponsor of the Taxpayers Right to Know Act. Carlos Osorio/AP file photo

For years congressional Republicans and a few Democrats have faulted the White House budget office for failing to post sufficient information online about the precise cost of programs.

On Wednesday, the Congressional Budget Office weighed in on a key bill addressing this topic--The Taxpayers Right to Know Act—scoring it as likely to cost $82 million over four years.

H.R. 598, introduced in January by Reps. Tim Walberg, R-Mich., and Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., would amend federal law to increase the amount of information about federal programs that the Office of Management and Budget provides online. It would require that each federal program be described on OMB’s website, including the number of people served by or benefiting from the program, and the number of federal employees and contract staff involved. It would require the inclusion of links to reviews of the program including those by the Government Accountability Office and inspectors general.

Walberg wrote in an Aug. 7 op-ed that, “If we get that data under the Taxpayers Right-to-Know Act, we can streamline or eliminate duplicative, outdated programs that have lost their intended purpose or impact so we stop throwing away the American people's hard-earned tax dollars.”

Several lawmakers have expressed impatience with OMB’s ongoing efforts to require agencies to produce a detailed inventory of their programs, which has run into disagreement over the definitions of programs. CBO said the Walberg-Cooper bill “could affect direct spending by some agencies (such as the Tennessee Valley Authority) because they are authorized to use receipts from the sale of goods, fees, and other collections to cover their operating costs; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. Because most of those agencies can make adjustments to the amounts collected based on changes in spending, CBO estimates that any net changes in direct spending would not be significant.”

The bill, which has 10 co-sponsors, was reported out of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Committee in July and awaits floor debate.

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