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Project on Government Oversight

New National Poll finds Strong, Bipartisan Demand for Transparency in Economic Recovery Package

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February 4, 2009

Transparency Coalition Description | Transparency Poll Data Memo


Wide support for public websites to track federal and state use of recovery funds

WASHINGTON, February 4, 2008 – An overwhelming majority of voters want full and open reporting on how Recovery Act funds are spent at federal and state levels, according to a nationwide survey conducted last week on behalf of the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery. Further, roughly eight in ten voters say that making the U.S government more accountable and more open to average citizens should be a high priority for the new administration, four out of ten said it is “one of the most important priorities.” 

The demand for greater transparency in the recovery package reaches across partisan, geographic and demographic divides. Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike strongly support the inclusion of tracking and reporting requirements to ensure federal money is effectively spent and has a positive impact on the economy:   

  • Three-quarters of voters (76%) believe that “creating a national website where citizens can see what companies and government agencies are getting the funds, for what purposes, and the number and quality of jobs being created or saved” would have an important impact on the package, including 39% who believe its impact would be extremely important.

Support for state transparency websites to monitor recovery funds received almost equally high marks, again from Republicans, independents and Democrats:  

  • Fully 76% of American voters said creating state level websites to track funds was “important,” and 34% said it was “very important.” 

“Whether or not we agree with the stimulus bill’s priorities, officials at the federal and state levels must assure taxpayers that their hard-earned money will be used in a responsible manner,” said National Taxpayers Union Government Affairs Manager Andrew Moylan. “The best way to do this is to make information on stimulus spending transparent and easily available to the public in a searchable online format.”

However, although state governments will have to report to the federal government, the current bill does not demand that states create public websites to show their own citizens how they are spending the money, despite the fact that state governments will be responsible for dispensing over half the funds. Underscoring the breadth of support for this reform, 70% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 80% of Democrats believe it would have an important impact on the recovery package. 

Greg LeRoy, Executive Director of Good Jobs First, remarked, “Transparency is not just necessary policy; it’s good politics.  No one wants well-intended stimulus funding to become tainted by corruption and waste at the state and local levels.  Getting lots of taxpayer eyeballs on the money is President Obama’s best bet for keeping governors and mayors from frittering away his Recovery Plan.” 

The survey was conducted between January 13th and January 20th, 2008 by Lake Research Partners, in collaboration with Topos Partnership. It reached 900 adults, 18 years of age or older, in the United States who are registered and voted in the 2008 General Election. 

The Coalition for an Accountable Recovery, an unprecedented partnership of over 30 organizations from across the political spectrum with hundreds of affiliates across the country, is working to ensure that economic recovery spending is transparent, accountable and effective. The coalition believes that full and open reporting on the use of these funds is critical to ensuring accountability in public decision-making and restoring citizen trust in government.

 

(alphabetically)

21st Century School Fund

Building Educational Success together (BEST)

Center for Cities and Schools

Center for Community Change

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Center for Fiscal Accountability

Center for Responsive Politics

Center on Policy Initiatives

Common Cause

Consumer Federation ofAmerica

ConsumersUnion

Economic Policy Institute

Gamaliel/Transportation Equity Network

Good Jobs First

Moms Rising

National Institute for Money in State Politics

National Taxpayers Union

National Training andInformation Center

OMB Watch

Open Technology Initiative/New America Foundation

OpenTheGovernment.org

Partnership for Working Families

PICO National Network

Progressive States Network

Project On Government Oversight

Public Citizen

Public Knowledge

Smart Growth America

Sunlight Foundation

Taxpayers for Common Sense

United States Public Interest Research Groups

WashingtonWatch.com

 

-END-


Transparency Coalition Description

With an economy that is contracting, unemployment increasing, and businesses failing, the federal government is spending trillions of dollars to promote recovery. However, the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) is a catastrophic start. The Coalition for an Accountable Recovery was formed to promote accountability policies for both government agencies and companies that contract with or benefit from recovery spending. Seizing 21st technology tools and precedents from states and cities, taxpayers deserve transparency and accountability in all new recovery efforts. 

The emerging American Reinvestment and Recovery Act contains laudable transparency and reporting rules, but they should be strengthened.  Oversight reports will be posted to a new Recovery.gov website, along with data about uses of funds, the jobs created or saved, and the quality of those jobs. 

Members of the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery have diverse views about the size of the stimulus and the projects it should support, but all agree that there must be requirements for detailed data and research tools on a searchable website to allow the public to effectively track and analyze the actions of the government (federal and state) – as well as bailed-out companies, subsidized companies, and government contractors – to judge how any recovery funds, including those to the financial sector, are being spent. 

Transparency is crucial for three reasons.  Only by carefully tracking expenditures will public officials be able to judge the effectiveness of public investments and be able fine-tune or shift spending to achieve maximum results.  If spending is intended to create or preserve jobs, then that should be one factor on which to judge the spending.  Understanding which communities, companies, and individuals are supported by recovery efforts is a basic fairness issue.  Without tracking, some communities or sectors could be systematically excluded from support, while well-connected entities may get special deals.  Reporting and oversight are necessary to ensure the honest and ethical use of public funds. Without transparency, we could see pay-to-play scandals and corruption on a massive scale.  Americans have a right to know how and where public dollars are being spent. 

Our polling confirms that Americans want government action to revive the economy.  But they want sensible, transparent, accountable government action. They want to understand the choices government officials are making, and to know what works and what doesn’t. This is new economic terrain and we may need a number of ways to jumpstart the economy.  But we can only determine what works and what doesn’t by tracking costs and benefits all the way down to local communities and projects. 

A Simple Ask:  Public Tools to Conduct Oversight 

The government should require online reporting that allows the public to easily search, sort, track and download data on the use of recovery funds including specifics of each state’s data. Starting with the Recovery Act, each state should be required to report on the funds received from the federal government, including information about federal subcontracts. The information should be provided in a uniform way, compatible with the federal USASpending.gov website.  New Web 2.0 methods for sharing data across websites must be applied to the Recovery.gov website, state websites, and USASpending.gov. State websites need to provide comparable data about state spending. An online tool and an automated hotline should be established for citizens and government workers to report any misuse of Recovery Act funds.  

Detailed Data

For taxpayers and public officials to effectively oversee the use of such large sums of money, government must collect detailed, uniform information.  Since much of the Recovery Act money will be spent by state governments, it is imperative that the federal government establish reporting standards and online reporting mechanisms that each state entity receiving funds would be required to use.  The federal government should explore expanding current reporting mechanisms, but if they prove too limited, slow or difficult to use, then new reporting structures should be established as quickly as possible.  Distribution of federal funds should be conditioned on satisfactory reporting by recipients and sub-recipients of federal funds.

Fundamental data points that should be tracked at the federal and state level include, but are not limited to: (a) information currently collected by USASpending.gov; (b) the activity/services to be provided under the contract, grant, loan or subsidy, including copies of the contract; (c) relevant performance measures (e.g., jobs saved or created, wages and benefits paid for such jobs, demographics of those hired); and (d) performance data about the recipient of federal funds (e.g., on-time performance, quality of work). There should also be strong requirements for timely reporting and posting of this data, preferably every 30 days after receiving Recovery Act funds.

Online Tools

Currently, USASpending.gov presents information on federal contracts, grants, loans and payments, including whether the money was competitively awarded.  Additionally, many states also have websites disclosing some state contracts and spending information, although there are enormous inconsistencies from state to state on what is reported and how it is presented. States should be required to apply the new functions and standards established by the Recovery Act to their existing reporting websites, ushering in a new standard for open government across the country.  Tools for mapping geographic patterns, graphing trends, and downloading detailed data for further analysis must be a part of the national website system.

(alphabetically)

 

21st Century School Fund

Building Educational Success together (BEST)

Center for Cities and Schools

Center for Community Change

Center for Economic and Policy Research

Center for Fiscal Accountability

Center for Responsive Politics

Center on Policy Initiatives

Common Cause

Consumer Federation of America

Consumers Union

Economic Policy Institute

Good Jobs First

Moms Rising

National Institute for Money in State Politics

National Taxpayers Union

National Training and Information Center

OMB Watch

Open Technology

Initiative/New America Foundation

OpenTheGovernment.org

Partnership for Working Families

PICO National Network

Progressive States Network

Project On Government Oversight

Public Citizen

Public Knowledge

Smart Growth America

Sunlight Foundation

Taxpayers for Common Sense

Transportation Equity Network

United States Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG)

WashingtonWatch.com

 


Transparency Poll Data Memo

 

TO:                Interested Parties

 

FROM:           Lake Research Partners and the Topos Partnership

 

DATE:            February 1, 2009

 

SUBJECT:      New Poll Shows Broad Support for Economic Recovery

          Package and Tough Government Accountability Measures

 

A recent nationwide survey conducted on behalf of the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery finds a solid majority of the public support the President’s economic recovery package, with approval crossing nearly every major demographic and regional divide.1

 

Despite voters’ goodwill toward Obama and sense of optimism about the future, there is still widespread concern about the undue influence of special interests in Washington.  Voters remain concerned about the lack of openness, oversight, and accountability in government.

 

Public support for the recovery plan stands in stark contrast to attitudes on the financial industry’s bailout package, which has suffered in part due to a lack of transparency and requirements for better corporate governance and caps on executive compensation in exchange for taxpayer assistance.

 

Voters express strong support for reforms to make the economic recovery package more accountable to the public. They want full and open reporting on how the recovery money is spent, with voters of all political stripes strongly supporting the creation of web-based tracking and reporting requirements – at both the federal and the state level – to ensure federal money is effectively spent and has a positive impact on the economy.    


The Political Context


Optimism, hope and anxiety are the public’s dominant emotions at this time of unprecedented change – and challenge – in the U.S. In describing their feelings about the future of the country, roughly half of voters say they are “optimistic” (26%), “hopeful” (19%), or “happy” (5%). At the same time, the undercurrents of worry and anxiety run strong and a significant number describe themselves as “worried” (20%) or “nervous” (16%).

 

At the top of Americans’ agenda for the new administration are greater accountability and openness in government. Roughly eight in ten say that making the U.S. government more accountable (83%) and more open (79%) to average citizens are important priorities, with close to 4 in 10 regarding these reforms as “one of the most important priorities.”

 

Not only does the public prioritize more accountability in government, the public is also optimistic that government can be made more accountable with the right people and policies. More than two-thirds (69%) believe that “government, with the right

rules and the right people serving, can be made more accountable to the people,”  while only 25% side with the notion that “government is just too inefficient and public officials are too self-interested for [it] to ever be really accountable to the people.”   

 

Republicans, independents, and Democrats alike strongly support the creation of tracking and reporting requirements in the recovery package to ensure federal money is effectively spent and has a positive impact on the economy.  Three-quarters of voters (76%) believe that “creating a national website where citizens can see what companies and government agencies are getting the funds, for what purposes, and the number and quality of jobs being created or saved” would have an important impact on the package, including 39% who believe its impact would be extremely important. A similar number of Americans believe it would also be important to create state websites for the same purpose (76% “important,” including 34% “very important”), though this oversight measure is currently missing from the recovery package – despite the fact that state governments will be responsible for dispensing up to two thirds of the funds. Underscoring the breadth of support for this reform, 70% of Republicans, 74% of independents, and 80% of Democrats believe it would have an important impact on the recovery package.

 

Public Support for the Recovery Package Runs Wide and Deep

 

A solid majority of Americans (58%) supports the Obama Administration’s proposed economic recovery package.  Only 25% of voters are opposed to it.  The disparity between public support and opposition is underscored by the intensity voters’ attach to each position: 40% strongly support the plan compared to just 15% who stand in strong opposition.  Perhaps more remarkable is the breadth of support for the economic recovery package, which unites voters across traditional demographic and regional divides.  The recovery package draws majority support from both men (57%) and women (58%); younger (59% of voters under age 55) and older (55% of voters over age 55); college educated (54%) and non-college educated (60%); Black (82%), White (53%), and Latino (67%).  Majorities of voters in all four regions of the U.S. support the package, with the Northeast the most supportive (67%), followed by the West (60%), the Midwest (56%) and the South (51%). In fact, the only major subgroup of voters for whom opposition to the economic recovery package outweighs support is Republicans (35% support to 45% oppose), though even Republicans fail to reach the 50% threshold of opposition. By comparison, Democrats (77% to 12%) and independents (57% support to 22% oppose) support the package by commanding margins.

 

In contrast to the public’s broad support for the economic recovery package, most Americans oppose the bank bailout. Fully half (50%) oppose the “legislation approving a $700 billion bailout for banks and financial institutions” that was passed last November compared to just 36% who support it. The intensity of opposition is also telling, as 37% of voters strongly oppose the bailout versus 17% who strongly support it.

 

Despite the fact that this plan was proposed by President Bush, Republican voters oppose it by more than a two to one margin (61% oppose, 27% support) with 44% of Republicans strongly opposing the measure.  In fact, it is Democrats who are the most supportive of the bailout (44% oppose, 42% support) and independents fall in between Democrats and Republicans in their support (48% oppose, 37% support).

 

It is very clear that a lack of accountability by financial institutions and oversight by Congress has weakened support for the bank rescue, a proposal that already started out with limited public appeal.  According to this survey, voters want private industries, like banks and auto manufacturers, to submit to a range of conditions before allowing them to belly up to a trough of public money.

 

In fact, some of the strongest numbers in the entire survey revolve around voters’ support for pre-conditions for private companies receiving financial assistance from the government, which include “limiting executive pay, bonuses, and dividends to shareholders.”  Eighty-four percent (84%) of Americans support these conditions, with 70% supporting these conditions strongly.  In addition, more than eight in ten voters from every major demographic, political, and regional subgroup agree.   Even when voters are exposed to arguments on both sides of this issue, fully 64% continue to support transparency measures (48% strongly).  Cleary, these conditions should be a major stipulation on any public money going to any private institution in the future – and they should be applied retroactively, to every extent possible.


Lake Research Partners is one of the nation's top public opinion research firms, recognized for its innovative methods, analysis, and strategic advice. Celinda Lake, the firm's President, and Daniel Gotoff, head of the New York office, are leading experts in national opinion trends and sought-after political strategists.  Lake Research partners have been tacticians and senior advisors to political candidates at all levels of the electoral process and work with a wide range of clients that require high quality opinion research, including charitable foundations, associations, public advocacy and other organizations.  For more information contact Lake Research Partners at info@lakeresearch.com and visit www.lakeresearchpartners.com.

 

Founded by veteran communications strategists Meg Bostrom of Public Knowledge, and Axel Aubrun and Joe Grady of Cultural Logic, Topos has as its mission to explore and ultimately transform the landscape of public understanding where public interest issues play out.  Our approach is based on the premise that while it is possible to achieve short-term victories on issues through a variety of strategies, real change depends on a fundamental shift in public understanding.   Topos was created to bring together the range of expertise needed to understand existing issue dynamics, explore possibilities for creating new issue understanding, develop a proven course of action, and arm advocates with new communications tools to win support.  For more information contact Topos at team@topospartnership.com and visit www.topospartnership.com.

 



1 Lake Research Partners, in collaboration with the Topos Partnership, designed and administered this survey, which was conducted by telephone using professional interviewers.  The survey reached 900 adults, 18 years or older, in the United States who are registered and voted in the 2008 General Election.  The survey was conducted between January 13th and January 20th, 2008.  The overall margin of error for this poll is +/-3.3%.

 

Founded in 1981, the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) is a nonpartisan independent watchdog that champions good government reforms. POGO’s investigations into corruption, misconduct, and conflicts of interest achieve a more effective, accountable, open, and ethical federal government.