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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

Location: Washington, DC



By Mr. COBURN (for himself, Mr. OBAMA, Mr. CARPER, and Mr. MCCAIN):

S. 2590. A bill to require full disclosure of all entities and organizations receiving Federal funds; to the Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Mr. COBURN. Mr. President, today, along with Senators BARACK OBAMA, THOMAS CARPER, and JOHN MCCAIN, I introduced legislation to create an online public database that itemizes Federal funding.

The bill ensures that the taxpayers will now know how their money is being spent. Every citizen in this country, after all, should have the right to know what organizations and activities are being funded with their hard-earned tax dollars.

The Federal Government awards roughly $300 billion in grants annually to 30,000 different organizations across the United States, according to the General Services Administration.

This bill would require the Office of Management and Budget, OMB, to establish and maintain a single public Web site that lists all entities receiving Federal funds, including the name of each entity, the amount of Federal funds the entity has received annually by program, and the location of the entity. All Federal assistance must be posted within 30 days of such funding being awarded to an organization.

This would be an important tool to make Federal funding more accountable and transparent. It would also help to reduce fraud, abuse, and misallocation of Federal funds by requiring greater accounting of Federal expenditures. According to OMB, Federal agencies reported $37.3 billion in improper payments for fiscal year 2005 alone. Better tracking of Federal funds would ensure that agencies and taxpayers know where resources are being spent and likely reduce the number of improper payments by Federal agencies.

Over the past year, the Senate Federal Financial Management Subcommittee, which I chair along with ranking member CARPER, has uncovered tens of billions of dollars in fraud, abuse and wasteful spending, ranging from expensive leasing schemes to corporate welfare to bloated bureaucracy. This database would ensure that such spending is better tracked and the public can hold policymakers and Government agencies accountable for questionable spending decisions.

The Web site required by this bill would not be difficult to develop. In fact, one such site already exists for some Federal funds provided by agencies within the Department of Health and Human Services, HHS. The CRISP, Computer Retrieval of Information on Scientific Projects, is a searchable database of federally funded biomedical research projects conducted at universities, hospitals, and other research institutions. The database, maintained by the Office of Extramural Research at the National Institutes of Health, includes projects funded by the National Institutes of Health, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Health Resources and Services Administration, Food and Drug Administration, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC, Agency for Health Care Research and Quality, and Office of Assistant Secretary of Health. The CRISP database contains current and historical awards dating from 1972 to the present.

This type of information should be available for all Federal contracts, grants, loans, and assistance provided by all Federal agencies and departments.

It often takes agencies months to verify or to determine an organization's funding when requested by Congress. There are numerous examples of Federal agencies or entities receiving Federal funds actually trying to camouflage how Federal dollars are being spent or distributing public funds in violation of Federal laws.

In October 2005, the House Government Reform Committee's Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources questioned the U.S. Agency for International Development, USAID, assistant administrator to determine if the agency was funding a proprostitution nongovernmental organization called Sampada Grameen Mahila Sanstha, SANGRAM, in apparent violation of Public Law 108-25. This law prohibits funds from being used ``to promote or advocate the legalization or practice of prostitution or sex trafficking,'' and organizations seeking Federal funding for HIV/AIDS work must have a policy ``explicitly opposing prostitution and sex trafficking.''

According to an unclassified State Department memorandum, Restore International, an antitrafficking organization working in India, was ``confronted by a USAID-funded NGO, SANGRAM while the former attempted to rescue and provide long-term care for child victims of sex trafficking. The confrontation led to the release of 17 minor girls--victims of trafficking--into the hands of traffickers and trafficking accomplices.'' According to this memorandum, SANGRAM ``allowed a brothel keeper into a shelter to pressure the girls not to cooperate with counselors. The girls are now back in the brothels, being subjected to rape for profit.''

On November 16, 2005, a USAID briefer asserted to subcommittee staff that USAID had ``nothing to do with'' the grant to the proprostitution SANGRAM and that the subcommittee's inquiries were ``destructive.'' Nonetheless, congressional investigators continued to pursue this matter and eventually proved that USAID money financed the proprostitution SANGRAM through a second organization named Avert, which was established with the assistance of four USAID employees as a passthrough entity. USAID has held the ex-officio vice chairmanship of Avert since inception. According to documents obtained by the subcommittee, the USAID board member of Avert voted twice to award funding to SANGRAM--July 27, 2002 and again on December 3, 2004--the last time being some 18 months after the provisions of Public Law 108-25 prohibited taxpayer funding of proprostitution groups like SANGRAM.

Last August, HHS sponsored a conference in Utah entitled the ``First National Conference on Methamphetamine, HIV and Hepatitis'' that promoted illegal drug abuse and dangerous sexual behavior. Conference sessions included: ``We Don't Need a `War' on Methamphetamine''; ``You Don't Have to Be Clean & Sober. Or Even Want to Be!''; ``Tweaking Tips for Party Boys''; ``Barebacking: A Harm Reduction Approach''; and ``Without condoms: Harm Reduction, Unprotected Sex, Gay Men and Barebacking.'' ``Tweaking'' is a street term for the most dangerous stage of meth abuse. A ``tweaker'' is a term for a meth addict who probably has not slept in days, or weeks, and is irritable and paranoid. Likewise, ``party boy'' is slang for an individual who abuses drugs, or ``parties.'' ``Barebacking'' is a slang term for sexual intercourse without the use of a condom.

While HHS initially denied sponsoring the conference, it was later learned that thousands of dollars of a CDC grant were used to, in fact, sponsor this conference and CDC sent six employees to participate. In a letter dated October 28, 2005, CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding admitted that ``Although CDC was not listed as a sponsor, a portion of CDC's cooperative agreement with Utah, $13,500, was used to support the conference. While Utah informed a CDC project officer that Utah and the Harm Reduction Coalition were sponsoring the conference and shared a draft agenda with the project officer, Utah did not inform the project officer about the particular source of the funding for the conference.''

Previously, the CDC was questioned about its financial support for a number of dubious HIV prevention workshops, including ``flirting classes'' and ``Booty Call,'' orchestrated by the Stop AIDS Foundation of San Francisco. While CDC repeatedly denied to both Congress and the public that taxpayer funds were used to finance these programs, a Stop AIDS Project official eventually admitted in August 2001 to using Federal funds for the programs. An HHS Office of Inspector General, OIG, investigation also concluded in November 2001 that Federal funds were used to finance the programs and that the programs themselves contained content that may violate Federal laws and Federal guidelines were not followed. The OIG found that the activity under review ``did not fully comply with the cooperative agreement and other CDC guidance,'' that the CDC requirement for review of materials by a local review panel was not followed, and characterized some of the project activities as ``inappropriate.'' Finally, the OIG concluded that ``CDC funding was used to support all [Stop AIDS] Project activities.'' The Stop AIDS Project received approximately $700,000 a year from the CDC but no longer receives Federal funding.

These are just a few recent examples from only a couple agencies uncovered due to aggressive congressional oversight. While the public, whose taxes finance these groups and programs, watchdog organizations, and the media can file Freedom of Information Act, FOIA, requests for this same information, such requests can take months to receive answers and often go completely ignored.

If enacted, this legislation will finally ensure true accountability and transparency in how the Government spends our money, which will hopefully lead to more fiscal responsibility by the Federal Government.

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