Removing Transparency at the Federal Level

by Jennifer L. Crull

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 was passed in order to provide the public access to information about how the federal government was spending your tax dollars. Out of this piece of legislation was the creation of the http://usaspending.gov Website.[1] This piece of legislation was introduced by Senators Tom Coburn, Barack Obama, Tom Carper, and John McCain. Under the Administration of now-President Obama, our federal government is about to become much less transparent for the American public.

Patrick Tyrrell reported in an article on the online blog The Foundry that the U.S. Census Bureau has decided to terminate the Federal Financial Statistics program effective with the FY 2012 budget.[2] The announcement on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Website states the following:

The U.S. Census Bureau has terminated the Federal Financial Statistics program effective for the FY 2012 budget. The termination of the program results in the elimination of the Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), including the publication, downloadable data, and the On-Line Query System, as well as the annual Federal Aid to States Report (FAS). In preparation for the Fiscal Year 2012 budget, the Census Bureau did a comprehensive review of a number of programs and made the difficult decision to terminate and reduce a number of existing programs in order to secure funding for new programs or cyclical increases for other programs.

The CFFR and FAS for Fiscal Year 2010, released in September 2011, are the final data publications. USASpending.gov provides some of the data previously available in the CFFR, such as information on Federal grants, direct payments, loans, insurance, and procurement contracts, however it does not contain all of the CFFR information.[3]

This is coming from the Administration of the President who promised that transparency was very important to him. You may wonder why this is important to you as a taxpayer. The reports from the U.S. Census Bureau allow us to see the breakdown of the federal funds by county for the different states. So if we were wondering how much Polk County or Winnebago County received for Social Security or Medicare, we would be able to see that level of detail on the U.S. Census Bureau’s Website. But we cannot find this level of data on the USASpending.gov Website. Does this sound like we are increasing transparency?

Tyrrell goes on to report that:

Did someone tell the Census Bureau that it must end the CFFR in order to expand other, less transparent data collection? The Obama Administration’s 2012 budget appendix includes a request to expand the Census Bureau’s research and production capabilities in some areas and a request to reduce them in others. It does not name exactly what is to be terminated but only what is to be expanded.[4]

The White House’s Website under the heading of Transparency and Open Government is a memorandum on the President’s beliefs on transparency.[5] Yet it seems that President Obama can’t practice what he is preaching on the Website. This memorandum is included on page 3 of this newsletter. As you can read, what the President has stated is a direct contradiction to what is happening with the U.S. Census Bureau.

One of reasons that gives us pause on how open the federal government is being with us is that Tyrrell also reported:

The old CFFR website refers people to USASpending.gov, with the caveat that not all of the data is available there. For the past two weeks, none of the data was available there.
I spoke with the chief of the Federal Programs Branch at the Census Bureau, who pointed me to the archives section of USASpending.gov. When we click on any of the files that are supposed to contain federal contracts however, we continually got “page not found” messages. Researchers who want to continue to use data they have had access to since 1993 are out of luck. On Friday, April 13, the data mysteriously returned to the page and is now located there, but the availability of the data remains spotty — one day in the last two weeks.[6]

Obama’s presidency has been sparked with debates about massive increases in federal spending, the national debt, and the debt ceiling – not the best topics to have your presidency remembered for. Yet as Obama is ratcheting up spending, he is removing the taxpayer’s ability to track federal dollars and how they are being spent in Iowa and other states. I believe that everyone should be able to see how funds are being spent in any county in Iowa. In addition, we should truly question the spending of federal dollars, but with the level of checks and balances being removed the federal government will be able to hide spending. It is time that we all insist we know where our tax dollars are going, for the government works for us!

Endnotes
[1] USASPENDING.GOV, <http://USASpending.gov > accessed on May 17, 2012.
[2] Patrick Tyrrell, “Obama Administration Discontinues Transparency Tool,” The Foundry, <http://blog.heritage.org/2012/04/16/obama-administration-discontinues-transparency-tool/> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[3] “Consolidated Federal Funds Reports,” U.S. Census Bureau, <http://www.census.gov/govs/cffr/> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[4] Tyrrell.
[5] Barack Obama, “Transparency and Open Government,” The White House, <http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/TransparencyandOpenGovernment> accessed on May 17, 2012.
[6] Tyrrell.

IOWA TRANSPARENCY NEWSLETTER is a monthly newsletter reporting on government transparency in our state.

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