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Senator Seeks to Create a Single Spending Database

By Rob Thormeyer
Special to The Washington Post.
Monday, July 31, 2006

Technically, creating a central searchable database to track all types of federal spending wouldn't be a problem, experts say.

If large banks can monitor individual credit card transactions, certainly the Office of Management and Budget could set up a Web site for federal spending, said Alan E. Webber, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. of Cambridge, Mass. "It would be a huge undertaking, but it would be feasible."

But whether it would be politically feasible is something else entirely. "The lobbyists are not going to want this to come out," Webber said.

Webber was commenting on legislation by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) that was approved Thursday by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It would require the Office of Management and Budget to set up a searchable Web site containing data on all types of federal spending -- including contracts, subcontracts, grants, subgrants, loans and other financial assistance.

The bill says the database would have to be searchable by agency, geography, industry, congressional district and types of federal funding.

A narrower bill, sponsored in the House by Thomas M. Davis III(R-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), passed in June. It focuses exclusively on grants.

The government now relies on the Federal Procurement Data System-Next Generation, a database maintained by the General Services Administration, to track information on procurement contracts. The GSA, through its contract with Global Computer Enterprises Inc. of Reston, enhanced the system in 2004. It now connects with nearly all agency procurement systems.

Although the system has been called a good first step, government auditors last year said it has been plagued with compatibility problems and incomplete data.

Coburn said the procurement database and the Federal Assistance Awards Data System, which provides quarterly data on grants and awards, do not provide enough details.

"The bottom line is that there is no single source of information explaining where federal money is spent, and there should be," Coburn said. The public should be able to search the database easily, he said. David Lucas of Global Computer Enterprises said the procurement database has been improved and has the potential to meet the legislation's mandate. It now collects procurement information from the Defense Department, and the tools it uses to connect with other agency procurement reporting systems have been improved.

"Now that we have built a bridge to all these procurement systems, we should use that bridge and that infrastructure to meet the next set of requirements," Lucas said.

Politically, though, the bill could run into problems, as many large companies with federal contracts might not want certain information made easily accessible.

"Vendors don't want their competitors to know what they're doing and what they're winning," Webber said.

Rob Thormeyer is a staff writer for Government Computer News. For more information on this and other government technology issues, go tohttp://www.gcn.com.

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