After a nearly fruitless long war to rein in wasteful government
spending, the Senate's most relentless pork-busters are trying a new
tack: unleash the energies - and ire - of 10,000 bloggers.
The answer to budgetary obfuscation, these senators say, is
sunlight. They propose to list all federal spending on one easy-to-
access website, saying it will be simpler for ordinary citizens to
see where tax dollars are going - and to shame lawmakers into being
Spending on the troops at a time of war, no problem. But $1.5
million to a liquor store in Los Angeles? Or $1.4 million to a car
wash in Anaheim, Calif.? How about $1.1 million to a pizza shop,
$1.5 million to a wine institute, and $227,000 to a strawberry
All are examples of federal subsidies awarded in California last
year. If you know how to use the already-available Federal
Assistance Award Data System, you'd be able to dig them up yourself,
but only for a single year. The senators' system would allow online
users to search for all the US contracts, grants, or other payments
made, for example, to Enron or Halliburton over a decade.
"It seemed an obscure issue when I first heard it, but it could
be revolutionary," says Chris Edwards, director of tax policy
studies at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank here.
The proposed law - cosponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn (R) of
Oklahoma, Barack Obama (D) of Illinois, Thomas Carper (D) of
Delaware, and John McCain (R) of Arizona - directs the White House
Office of Management and Budget to create a website showing all
recipients of federal grants, contracts, and other payments. It must
be free, easy to search, and accessible to the public, they say.
A researcher's trove
Congressional staff and the cottage industry of government
watchdog groups can't begin to do the research that would be readily
available on such a database, Senator Coburn said Tuesday at a
hearing on the proposed Federal Funding Accountability and
"We need help doing oversight," said Senator Obama, who testified
at the hearing. "This will empower citizens and organizations."
Senator McCain, who also spoke at Tuesday's hearing, said: "It
will be a caution to people who want to appropriate money not for
In the past, the bid to check government spending has focused on
so-called pork projects - lawmaker-sponsored earmarks, usually
attached to an appropriations bill, that inflate the cost of