Obama, McCain give boost to contract data legislation

By Dan Friedman

June 5, 2008

Even as Sens. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and John McCain, R-Ariz., bash each other on the campaign trail, both are backing a bill beefing up federal contracting transparency.

During a Senate appearance Wednesday, Obama joined Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to introduce legislation to increase information available through USASpending.gov, a database of federal contracts and grants created under a bill the senators co-sponsored in 2006.

McCain and Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Management Subcommittee Chairman Thomas Carper, D-Del., joined as original co-sponsors.

While USASpending.gov lists government contract and grant amounts, the bill would require federal agencies to include searchable copies of all contracts they award, details about the bidding process, assessments of work already done and information on civil, criminal or administrative proceedings against award recipients, among other categories.

Despite the relatively late date in the session, Senate aides said the measure could move quickly given past passage of the database bill and its high-profile support.

"It should be pretty easy to pass, especially with the two presidential candidates on it," a Carper aide said. He said the bill could be marked up at either the subcommittee or full committee level by July.

"Having McCain and Obama as backers is very significant," a Coburn spokesman said via e-mail. "Perhaps they can promote the bill during their upcoming joint town hall meetings." McCain recently proposed a series of town-hall style appearances, an idea the Obama camp called "appealing."

The measure may move alone or be attached as an amendment to another bill. While no companion House bill has been introduced, Obama's staff has shared language with the staff of House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman, aides said.

Various provisions in the bill address government accountability themes adopted by both presidential candidates. The bill would require that the database indicate if contracts or grants resulted from congressional earmarks, for instance.

The measure also requires that the Web site include information on contractor's tax compliance. It mandates enhancements to USASpending.gov through twice-yearly audits of data quality, a public error-reporting system and reviews of data samples by agency inspectors general.

By Dan Friedman

June 5, 2008