OMB Welcomes Help From Anti-Pork Bloggers

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By Elizabeth Williamson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 4, 2006

Call it the Office of Management and Blog-it.

The Office of Management and Budget is turning to bloggers for help in pushing the OMB's government reform plans after last week's success of its pet project, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, also known as the Coburn-Obama bill.

The legislation envisions an online, searchable list of all federal government contracts and grants of more than $25,000. Such a window onto pork distribution would, said President Bush when he signed it, "increase accountability and reduce incentives for wasteful spending."

Despite its bipartisan support, the bill earlier hit a wall when an unknown senator put a secret hold on it. Open-government bloggers leapt off the computer and onto the phone, calling all 100 senators -- minus Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), of course -- to unmask the culprit.

Heady stuff, reading rapid-fire postings as the mostly conservative blogmeisters narrowed the list in real time, flushing out the faceless holder: Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).

Stevens's explanation -- mostly, that he wanted a cost-benefit analysis -- was lost in a hail of online gotchas, and he lifted his hold. To some Hill-watchers, outing the Senate's per capita pork champ was a "duh" moment. But to the OMB, bill sponsors and their blogger backers, it was sweet victory.

Bush signed the bill last week, flanked by the bloggers who had led the charge, including those from Porkbusters.org, Townhall.com, Instapundit.com and Human Events Online's Right Angle blog. Soon afterward, OMB Deputy Director Clay Johnson III spent an hour with the bloggers.

Right after that, OMB Director Rob Portman and Johnson appeared at a luncheon to talk about OMB's government performance push.

Portman also talked about the blogger fest, saying, "Clay asked them, 'Gee, since you're so good at this, can you help us on some of our other initiatives?' " When Johnson took the floor, he invoked the bloggers several times as weapons in his fight for government performance and accountability reforms.

"Senator Voinovich tried . . . to get a co-sponsor this year for a bill that called for that kind of performance evaluation, and Voinovich added that an employee had to be minimally successful to get a raise," Johnson said at one point, referring to George V. Voinovich (R-Ohio). "This is a no-brainer, right? He could not get a co-sponsor. . . . It might just make its way to the blog community."

But the blogosphere remains an unstable realm: At the height of the search for Stevens, a cry rose to abolish secret holds, which are often used for innocuous reasons, and at least one blogger demanded that the entire Senate be shut down until the holder was found.

OMB official Robert J. Shea seems to grasp that better than his bosses. Using bloggers as advocates, he mused, "could backfire."


© 2006 The Washington Post Company

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