Presidential hopefuls sign pledge to back federal funding search engine

Three candidates affirm commitment to implement legislation enhancing transparency of federal spending.

Three presidential candidates have pledged to actively enforce a law aimed at making federal spending information more transparent.

Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sam Brownback, R-Kan., and Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, have signed on to a pledge, created by the libertarian-leaning policy group the Reason Foundation and an alliance of 36 public interest groups, to support the principles in the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, passed in late 2006. The law requires the creation of a search engine allowing the public to track federal contracts, earmarks, grants and subsidies.

The candidates pledged to issue an executive order "assuring timely implementation of and administrative commitment to" the search engine principle within 30 days of taking office.

"Every American has the right to know how the government spends their tax dollars," said Obama, who co-sponsored the 2006 law. "For too long, that information has been largely hidden from public view."

Mike Flynn, director of government affairs at the Reason Foundation, said the oath was needed to ensure that the law would be fully implemented. "It's in the classic Reagan line of 'Trust but verify,' " he said. Flynn also said a presidential mandate could would send a message to agencies who might be inclined to dodge the law to protect their image or avoid extra work. But Flynn also said the Office of Management and Budget has done a good job so far developing the search engine.

"We are on schedule to meet the deadline for the launch" of the Web site required by the law, said OMB spokeswoman Andrea Wuebker. The system, she said, should be ready to debut in January. In the meantime, the public can leave comments and suggestions on an interim site set up by OMB in February.

"The more that we can get this stuff out of the dark recesses of federal procurement and into open light, the better it is for everybody," Flynn said. He also said the government should be moving toward a system where all procurements go through a single database.

The law passed with broad support in Congress, despite concerns about whether the new effort would be able to overcome problems with data quality and timeliness in existing systems.