Senate committee approves online earmark database bill

The public is one step closer to getting a detailed and comprehensive look at all congressional earmark requests.

On Wednesday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee approved the 2010 Earmark Transparency Act by a vote of 11-5. Sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Russ Feingold, D-Wis.; John McCain, R-Ariz.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., the legislation would create an online database that taxpayers could use to sort, search and download earmark requests and approved projects.

"Taxpayer dollars do not belong to earmark lobbyists, committees or politicians but to the American people, and the American people have a right to know how Congress might spend their money," Coburn said. "While Congress has taken some steps to make the earmark process more transparent, some prefer to keep the process cloaked in secrecy."

The bill responds to President Obama's request during his January State of the Union address to shine a light on earmark spending. "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," Obama said during the speech.

Some earmark data already is publicly available, but it's scattered across hundreds of public and private sector websites. The Earmark Transparency Act would link together dispersed data in a public database for the first time.

The database would include:

  • The amount of the initial earmark request; the amount of funding approved by the committee and included in final legislation; the sponsor's name, state or district; and relevant information about the project
  • A lawmaker's earmark request letter and any documents supporting that request
  • Information on all approved earmarks before a final vote on the funding legislation

"The database created by this bill will provide the kind of transparency the American people deserve," Feingold said.

The committee also approved the 2010 Government Accountability Office Improvement Act, which would allow the watchdog to bring civil action against agencies that are reluctant to turn over documents. GAO employees also would be empowered to administer oaths to witnesses in matters other than auditing and settling accounts.

The panel also voted in favor of the 2009 Federal Acquisition Institute Improvement Act. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, would direct the Office of Management and Budget and the General Services Administration to provide the Federal Acquisition Institute, a school for civilian contracting officials, with "sufficient budget resources and authority." OMB's Office of Federal Procurement Policy would be in charge of the institute and tasked with choosing the school's director.

The House also moved forward on Thursday with its own transparency and accountability legislation.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee approved the 2010 Inspector General Authority Improvement Act, which would require agencies to take corrective action to recover potential cost savings identified in the course of IG audits and investigations. The bill also provides IGs with the authority to subpoena nonfederal witnesses under certain circumstances.

Earlier this week, Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., wrote to all agency inspectors general, asking them to identify their top cost savings and deficit reduction measures. The lawmaker also instructed the IGs to indicate whether agencies have made progress implementing their previous recommendations.

The committee also passed the 2010 Overseas Contractor Reform Act, which prevents individuals or companies found in violation of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act from winning federal contracts and grants.

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