Web site on federal grants, loans and contracts debuts

The Office of Management and Budget rolled out a new Web site Thursday that will provide information on all major federal grants, loans and contracts. The new site, dubbed USASpending.gov, is dedicated to improving transparency by providing the public with information on all major federal transactions.

The launch fulfills one of the key requirements of the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which requires full disclosure on a Web site maintained by OMB of all organizations receiving more than $25,000 in federal funds. Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Tom Coburn, R-Okla., co-sponsors of the legislation, applauded the announcement, which Obama called "an important milestone on the path to great government transparency."

"We can't reduce waste, fraud and abuse without knowing how, where and why federal money is flowing out the door," Obama said. "This site will provide a window into the federal budget so all Americans can see how their tax dollars are being spent."

OMB awarded the contract for developing USASpending.gov to OMB Watch, a nonprofit watchdog group that runs the popular FederalSpending.org site.

Robert Shea, associate director of OMB, called his agency's role "minimal," crediting its completion to a partnership between OMB Watch and the Sunlight Foundation, which is dedicated to using the Internet to increase the transparency and accessibility of government. Shea said OMB was able to purchase OMB Watch's existing site software for $600,000 to use as the basis for the new site. He said there were other support costs, but that the total was "short of $1 million."

USASpending.gov eventually will provide a full searchable database of all federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans. He said OMB has received data from 21 of 24 agencies, representing about 90 percent of government spending. The site will be updated every two weeks. OMB will post the data, but it's up to agencies to keep their databases current.

"An informed public is a better public," said Coburn. "This Web site is going to put control of our government back in control of our citizens."

He acknowledged that bloggers played a role in holding government accountable for delivering the site. "I see this as a great tool for government, contractors, municipalities, journalists, everyone," he said. "I expect it to take off like wildfire." He promised oversight hearings if any agency failed to provide OMB with timely data for the site.

The data is presented in a variety of modes, such as congressional district and lists of the top 100 recipients of aid or contractors in a particular field. In addition, the database is fully searchable by both the site's search feature as well as commercial search engines. "It's still a work in progress," said Shea. "We will work to improve accessibility, completeness and the timeliness of the data. The definition of success is when this information is being used to hold the government accountable."

He added that USASpending.gov eventually would include a wiki and pages for users to comment and post feedback and information such as the legislative source of each particular transaction.

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