Transparency and Open Government: Congress-Style

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 The 647-page proposed economic stimulus bill (H.R. 1) not only contains the spending details for the $825 billion measure, it also includes a series of transparency and accountability provisions.  Some of these reinforce the Obama transparency directive; others may make it more difficult to implement.  For example, the increased funding for inspectors general  (which oftentimes tend to focus on enforcing existing procedures and hierarchy, even if antiquated) could run counter to Obama’s call for more cross-agency and cross-sector collaboration.  Strong leadership across the Inspector General (IG) community could overcome this potential impediment, however.   Here are some highlights:

  •  Designated IG offices get increased appropriations of nearly $250 million.  For example, the Agriculture IG gets an additional $22.5 million.  The Government Accountability Office receives an additional $25 million.  Now what would they audit?  Not just waste.  Here are some specific provisions they’ll have to ensure compliance with:
  • None of the monies can be “used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool.”  (these restrictions are examples of perceived past egregious behaviors; the bill, however, forgot to ban the construction of pyramids — an particularly spectacular economic development project that received a Golden Fleece Award in its time).
  • All iron and steel in stimulus projects has to be made in the USA.
  • All laborers and mechanics employed by contractors on projects funded by the economic stimulus bill have to be paid “prevailing wages.” (also known as Davis-Bacon Act wages).
  • All entities receiving stimulus bill funding have to participate in the E-verify program (so no illegal immigrants receive any funding).
  • Federal agencies have to publish a plan for how they will spend their monies on a new website:  recovery.gov (is this the first time a web domain address has been legislated?)
  • Each contract or grant issued using funds from the stimulus bill has to be posted on the internet and linked to recovery.gov.
  • Contracts, “to the maximum extent possible,” are to be fixed-price contracts, using competitive procedures.

 

To oversee these requirements, a Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board (RAAT-B? what an acronym!) will be established to coordinate oversight of federal spending under the stimulus bill “to prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.” There will be 7 members appointed by the president and it will be chaired by the Chief Performance Officer and provided a $14 million budget.  The board will issue both “flash reports” and quarterly reports, and annual reports.  It also runs the recovery.gov website.

 

The bill also establishes a 5-member independent advisory panel to advise the RAAT-B.  It would provide advice on how the Board can prevent waste, fraud, and abuse.

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