Open Access News

News from the open access movement

Friday, September 15, 2006

OA database of government grants and contracts

Congress has passed the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which creates an OA database of government grants and contracts. The bill was nearly derailed by Senators who didn't want their favorite pork-barrel spending projects exposed to the light of day. The database should launch in 2008.

Here's an academic take on the legislation from today's Chronicle of Higher Education:

Congress has approved a bill establishing a Web-based, Google-like search engine to provide a single, public source of information about federal contracts and grants, including projects financed through academic earmarks.

The move was part of a flurry of activity in Congress this week to provide more transparency and accountability for earmarks, the noncompetitive awards secured by lawmakers for colleges and other constituents. The House of Representatives approved on Thursday a rules change requiring that all Congressional sponsors of earmarks be publicly identified.

The move for increased disclosure came as Congressional Republicans face low poll ratings and a November election. Critics fault the party for presiding over an explosion in earmarks for colleges and other recipients since Republicans took control of Congress in 1994.

But it was unclear whether the increased sunshine would reduce the number of these set-asides -- many members of Congress and college officials already boast openly about specific earmarks they obtain....

For each federal award, the new database must identify the recipient and give a description of the project and the amount of any federal funds that this recipient has received in the past 10 years. The bill sets a deadline of January 1, 2008, for the database to go online and January 1, 2009, for it to list subcontracts and subgrants....

[The database will include individual grants for scientific research.] Roy D. Blunt, a Missouri Republican who is House majority whip, said the database could highlight a variety of "wasteful government grants," and he mentioned two specific grants to universities that were financed by the National Institutes of Health and that the House voted in 2004 to eliminate (The Chronicle, September 10, 2004.) Congressman Blunt cited "millions of dollars spent with the National Institute of Mental Health to study what makes a meaningful day for college students, or to study how college students decorate their dorm rooms."

[N]umerous Democrats and some Republicans said the measure, H. Res. 1000, was flawed because it contained loopholes. The disclosure requirement applies, for example, to earmarks in appropriations bills passed by House committees but not to amendments introduced during floor debates. Those "manager's amendments" are often loaded with earmarks and introduced shortly before a final vote, leaving legislators little time to examine or debate them.

For more, see my first blog posting on this bill and other news coverage.