The Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee heard Wednesday that leadership and adequate funding are necessary for the success of federal financial transparency, and the Treasury Department is working to expand the transparency and accountability of how billions of taxpayer dollars are spent.
At a hearing entitled "Show Me the Money: Improving the Transparency of Federal Spending," witnesses said that OMB and federal agencies excelled in disclosing spending associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) through Recovery.com, because the effort was adequately funded, mandated by Congress, and the White House pushed hard for it. In comparison, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which was also backed by Congress and established the USASpending.gov site, has suffered because of underfunding and inattention.
For fiscal year 2012, the nation will spend more than $3 trillion, with a national debt closing in on $16 trillion.
"The numbers seem incomprehensible, but that makes it all the more important that federal spending be publicly transparent so that any citizen can see where taxpayer dollars are being spent and help root out waste in the budget," Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman said. "With today's technology, this kind of financial transparency and accountability is well within our grasp."
Six years after passage of FFATA, the USASpending.gov website still has not achieved Congress's vision for it. The site is not user friendly, many citizen users may have trouble understanding the data presented, and data is not stored in a consistent method, making it hard to draw comparisons between different data sets.
"Times have changed since the passage of FFATA, and we should take advantage of a success story that came about as a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to track the nearly half a trillion dollars spent on economic stimulus," Lieberman added. "Whatever you may think of the Recovery Act, the Recovery.com website generally got high marks for simplicity, reliability and ease of use, and we should build on that work."
Witnesses at the hearing were: Senator Mark Warner, D-Va.; Comptroller General of the U.S. Gene Dodaro; Daniel I. Werfel, Controller, Office of Federal Financial Management at OMB; and Richard L. Gregg, Fiscal Assistant Secretary at the Treasury Department.
"Given the difficult budget climate that we will face in the upcoming years, it is more important than ever that we take advantage of the technological opportunities that exist to improve transparency and accountability of federal spending," Lieberman concluded.