Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has been working on the transparency provision since he came to Congress in 2011.

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has been working on the transparency provision since he came to Congress in 2011. Anna Moneymaker, New York Times / Pool via AP

Defense Policy Bill Includes Bipartisan Provision for Greater Transparency on Federal Spending

The bill will create a central inventory of spending information, which good government groups say is overdue.  

The annual defense policy bill, approved last week, included a bipartisan provision that will require federal agencies to be more transparent about the performance and costs of their programs.

The House and Senate both passed the 2021 National Defense Authorization Act last week with veto-proof majorities. The $740 billion bill includes “The Taxpayers Right to Know Act,” which was introduced last year in both chambers. The Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee reported it favorably in July 2019 and the House passed it in February (after passing previous versions.) 

The bill “requires federal agencies to report on their federal program activities and provide that information to the Office of Management and Budget to be published online as a complete inventory of the federal government’s programs,” said a statement on December 9 from the office of Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., who previously introduced the bill in the House along with Rep. Tim Walberg, R-Mich. “This information would be updated regularly and posted online in a searchable format. The [act] will allow policy makers to identify areas of duplication and overlap to eliminate waste and inefficiency and provide transparency to taxpayers about how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.” 

Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., has been working on this legislation since he came to Congress in 2011. He introduced the bill last year with Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; Ron Johnson, R-Wis.; Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz.; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and said he was pleased it was included in this year’s authorization act. The bill will “increase transparency and curb wasteful spending,” said a press release from his office on December 11. 

“This is a commonsense bill that both the House and Senate should have agreed to years ago,” Cooper said. “But hope springs eternal and I’m glad the fifth time is the charm. We’ve got to take steps to spend money where it’s needed most. In a pandemic, with record unemployment, we need to know where funds are going – and what should be redirected.”

Over the summer seven good government groups had called for the bill to be included in the authorization act, saying “it is past time that the federal government developed such an inventory.” The bill will also “support and improve the legislative branch’s constitutional power over the purse,” they noted. 

President Trump reiterated on Sunday that he would veto the overall Defense policy bill because “the biggest winner” is China. He previously insisted the act include a repeal of Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which is a liability shield for social media companies, and that it not allow for the renaming of Confederate military bases. Congress did not cater to either demand.