- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 26, 2006

President Bush yesterday signed legislation creating a Web-based searchable database of federal government spending, calling it a first step in making the government more accountable to taxpayers.

The database, championed by bloggers, taxpayer groups and editorial writers nationwide, will allow people to search records for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of federal contracts and grants — or, as Mr. Bush said, “to Google their tax dollars.”

“We spend a lot of time and a lot of effort collecting your money, and we should show the same amount of effort in reporting how we spend it,” the president said during a signing ceremony attended by lawmakers, congressional staff, columnists and bloggers.

Written by Sens. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, and Barack Obama, Illinois Democrat, the legislation creates a database available to the public through a Web site. It will list every entity receiving federal funds, along with information about the amount and purpose of the spending.

The federal government issues more than $400 billion in grants and $300 billion in contracts each year to businesses, associations and state and local governments.

Clay Johnson, deputy director for management at the White House Office of Management and Budget, said the information already exists, but now the administration must collect and compile it into a consistent format.

The law gives the administration until 2008 to have the database in full operation. Mr. Johnson said OMB will consult with key lawmakers and produce a plan for the database at the beginning of next year.

The Bush administration backed the bill during summer negotiations as a tool to improve government transparency and accountability.

A more limited bill sponsored by House Majority Whip Roy Blunt, Missouri Republican, and Rep. Thomas M. Davis III, Virginia Republican, passed the House in June, but the Coburn-Obama bill was blocked in the Senate by a “secret hold.” This Senate tradition allows a single member to obstruct a bill’s progress anonymously.

Bloggers from the left and right formed a coalition last month to expose the obstructors by urging readers call their senators and demand to know whether they had placed the secret hold. The senators relented under public pressure.

After brief negotiations, the bill passed both chambers of Congress.

Mr. Coburn and Mr. Obama, in a joint statement, gave “all the credit and praise” for the bill’s passage to bloggers, editorial writers and citizens. Mr. Johnson said the campaign showed that the public has the power to demand tools for good governance.

“The public have spoken is the lesson here, and when the public speaks, things happen, and when the public wants something to happen, the Congress listens,” Mr. Johnson said.

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