On his first day in office, President Obama ordered agencies to adopt “an unprecedented level of openness” that would lead to the wider distribution of government information by releasing White House visitor logs, fulfilling more Freedom of Information Act requests and by publishing online government information long kept behind closed doors.
Transparency advocates and good-government groups initially cheered the reforms, but later panned the early efforts, arguing the information posted online was of little value. White House aides have defended the efforts, acknowledging that early stumbles were expected because Obama is the first president to tackle government transparency concerns with a serious, coordinated plan.
As part of the reforms, several departments have canceled or revamped the development of new business and accounting systems used to receive payments, distribute federal funds and grants, manage contracts and process worker payrolls. Many of the systems cost hundreds of millions of dollars to develop, but in some cases were years overdue or inoperable.
Issa — who has openly embraced the role as the administration’s chief overseer — has vowed to give a serious look at Obama’s open-government plans, arguing they’ve yet to endure a serious congressional review. His House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is already probing agency FOIA operations,and on Wednesday it asked for detailed information by late March on each agency’s business and accounting systems. The committee also wants to know what financial information is shared by agencies with the Treasury Department and Office of Management and Budget and what, if any data, is published online for public scrutiny.
Much of the government’s financial data is published on USASpending.gov, a government Web site established in 2006 by legislation sponsored by then-Sen. Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).
The site’s information on federal grants is frequently inaccurate, according to a recent report by the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, which has generally supported Obama’s transparency reforms. Issa and his colleagues seized on the findings and are holding a hearing Friday about the report — after all, any nonpartisan organization raising concerns with a program supported by Obama fits perfectly with their oversight plans. Future hearings are expected to focus on the information requested Wednesday, according to Issa’s office.
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