Administration reveals misgivings on transparency bill

Danny Werfel, U.S. Controller Danny Werfel, U.S. Controller Caitlin Fairchild/GovExec.com

The so-called DATA Act, a bipartisan bill to require uniform online reporting on agencies’ spending, faces an uncertain fate in the Senate and the White House after sailing through the House last month.

On Thursday, new clues emerged when Danny Werfel, the U.S. controller, testified for the Office of Management and Budget at a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing on vacancies in the offices of inspectors general.

Told by Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., that OMB “has not been the greatest proponent” of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, Werfel said the White House is “reviewing the bill and getting input from every agency” and plans to present a comprehensive reaction while noting “areas were more work is needed.”

The legislation was introduced by Issa in the House and in the Senate by Mark Warner, D-Va.

“The president and the administration are in complete agreement with the act’s objectives,” Werfel said, noting President Obama as a senator had co-sponsored the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act and favored the 2010 Government Performance and Results Modernization Act. “Those are being executed, so we’re not starting from scratch,” Werfel said.

Still, he added, the administration has questions about the act’s provision to create a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed commission to oversee and coordinate agency efforts at a time when “we’re looking to streamline the government” with the new reorganization authority requested of Congress in February. “Is it really good to add an additional layer?” he asked.

Werfel said there is also concern about the impact of new reporting requirements on state and local governments, universities and businesses. He said OMB is looking at alternative ways to achieve the same ends through existing means and called for a dialogue.

Issa told Werfel the act is needed because officials have not made use of existing tools. “You haven’t done your job,” he said to Werfel. “The authority is already there to an extent, but Congress can only wait so long.”

The website reporting procedures set up to monitor spending under the 2009 Recovery Act are a good model, Issa said, but haven’t spread through government for a reason: “You officials have a lethargic view toward making this transition,” he told Werfel.

Issa also said he hoped the DATA Act would consolidate reporting requirements and make things easier for agencies.

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