Today witnessed the launch of USAspending.gov, which was created by the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act by Tom Coburn and Barack Obama. The site enables tracking of $1 trillion in federal spending on contracts, grants, earmarks, and loans. The bill faced serious opposition, including anonymous holds by some of the biggest porkbarrel spenders (including Ted Stevens), but in the end, Coburn and Obama prevailed.
And, to my surprise (especially for a government site), an API is available to make it easy to extract data.
The site is clearly a treasure trove of data and is a huge step forward towards government accountability. What's also nice is how user friendly it is.
Let's look at a few examples of what we can dig up.
Example 1: The list of transactions with KBR, Inc. (formerly part of Halliburton) in 2007. This came out to a paltry sum of $2.7 billion dollars (so far this year), which is nothing compared to previous years as the bar graph on the summary page shows.
Example 2: No bid contracts are among the darkest corners of federal spending - the lack of competition in these contracts is in large part what leads to overcharging by contractors and waste of taxpayer dollars. Well, there was $30 billion in no-bid contracts in 2007, including money to some companies I had never heard of, including $1.2 billion to Armor Holdings, Inc. and, strangely, $163 million to the government of Canada.
Example 3: Half of the difficulty in keeping our government accountable is being able to separate the wheat from the chaff - that is, being able to get at the data for the above-the-board stuff that goes on so we can focus in on the under-the-table dealings that are inevitably taking place. Without the data, it's hard to separate the two. In the "unknown" category of spending includes $2.6 billion for guided missiles, mostly to Lockheed and Raytheon.
There are a million more examples, and I'm really looking forward to seeing them in the coming weeks and months. It's hard to say whether this will change the ways contractors behave and porkbarrel spending is done, but it will expose no-bid contracts to a greater extent than has been done in the past, and moreover, will enable ordinary Americans to help be watchdogs.
All in all, I'm very happy to see another positive step towards government transparency, something that Sen. Obama has been a leader in.
Finally - I have one challenge to everyone - find one interesting, strange, or otherwise noteworthy piece of spending using the site, and post it in a comment.