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White House, House Oversight Committee Announce Separate Initiatives to Reduce Wasteful Duplication of Work

BY Nick Judd | Monday, June 13 2011

The White House and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform announced separate initiatives Monday promising the same thing: An independent federal body responsible for tracking federal spending and reducing waste. Both initiatives place an emphasis on consolidating the government's web presence.

Update: The White House executive order, embedded below, is way more similar to Issa's legislation than I first suspected. The key difference seems to be the executive order creates a committee that might think about data standards, while standards — think of it as making sure that spending data on any one government agency's spreadsheets can be compared, cross referenced, etc., with data from another agency — while standards are the core of what Issa is trying to do in his bill.

The oversight committee's chairman, Darrell Issa (R-Ca.), announced new legislation today that would impose a government-wide standard on reporting how federal money is spent, and require that all agencies and most recipients of federal funds report that spending to a new federal entity, the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board, at an annual cost of $51 million through 2018. Meanwhile, later Monday, Vice President Joe Biden was expected to announce a very similar entity — created through executive order.

"Today we have ‘analog transparency’, in the sense that anybody can file endless Freedom of Information Act requests with one hundred plus separate federal agencies and receive, maybe, after months, thousands of pages of scanned documents that, if carefully perused, might yield up the same information that ought to be able to be derived with a keystroke," Issa is quoted as saying in a press release.

Issa's proposed legislation, called the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, would consolidate the work done by several federal websites — like Recovery.gov and USAspending.gov, to name two — into a single site that serves as the front end to an entity tasked solely with tracking and explaining how the federal government spends taxpayer money. Besides shifting responsibility for tracking that spending from the Recovery Board, which FAST is designed to supersede, and the federal Office of Management and Budget, it would require a single, government-wide standard for electronic reporting of funds — both dramatic shifts.

It's especially of note that Issa's bill, which his staff says is the result of two years' worth of committee work, would actually require the federal government to approach financial data in a more modern and sophisticated way. While federal IT and processes are still notoriously behind the times, executives in other sectors use more modern methods to make snap decisions based on the ability to quickly sort and analyze large and complex sets of data. A data standard would be a boring but important precursor to a single, reasonably accurate web-based dashboard for information about federal spending — that, anyway, is the plan. (Recovery.gov has had its share of problems where accuracy is concerned.)

But Issa wasn't the only one talking digital transparency today.

Also Monday, the White House released a video in which President Barack Obama restated his efforts to crack down on wasteful spending in the federal government and teased a new initiative, to be led by Vice President Joe Biden, to increase transparency and oversight over federal spending.

"The American people are entitled to transparency," Biden says in the video, released today. "By that I mean they're entitled to figure out where their dollars are going, and they're entitled to accountability, to make sure that we're using the dollars for what we said it was for.

"Look, a lot of this depends on new, sophisticated methods," Biden later added, "but it also, we know, depends on a relentless focus on making this a priority."

The Associated Press reports that Obama will sign an executive order that calls for a new oversight board — one that sounds not unlike the FAST Board — to "to work with federal agencies to cut back on waste and improve their performance."

Washington Post has more:

As part of the new anti-waste campaign, officials said Biden will lead a new 11-member oversight board tasked with helping federal agencies cut back on waste and fraud. Modeled on [Earl] Devaney’s stimulus oversight panel that includes several inspectors general, the new board will be comprised of federal watchdogs, deputy secretaries, agency chief financial officers and officials from the Office of Management and Budget. Biden will also lead regular meetings with Cabinet members, and top agency officials will be required to submit new quarterly progress reports to the White House, officials said.

Related to this initiative, Obama, in the same video, promised to ensure that the government will trim its web presence by reducing the number of websites the federal government maintains.

Reaction to both announcements should unfurl throughout the day. Stay tuned.

This post has been updated.

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