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Project on Government Oversight

POGO & Others Urge Public Access to Katrina Contracting Information

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December 15, 2005

President George W. Bush
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear President Bush:

Congress has put $62.3 billion into Hurricane Katrina relief, with billions more expected in help for Gulf Coast recovery efforts. With the federal government spending so much so quickly, opportunities for waste and fraud abound. To help find and stop misuse of taxpayer dollars, Congress, reporters, and the public must be informed of how the dollars are spent. We call on President Bush to post on the Internet copies of every contract, requisition, task/delivery order, agreement or other authorization for spending on Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction as soon as contracts are signed, checks are approved or money is disbursed. For such spending that has already occurred, we urge you to direct agencies to put such information online as soon as possible. Posting vital spending documents online would help the government and taxpayers alike in several ways. Public disclosure will speed the government's ability to track down and stop abuses. Disclosure will inform public debate about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. In general, public disclosure deters fraud and abuse, so taxpayer dollars may be saved before money is spent. Ultimately, making these documents available online and accessible through a single, searchable website saves taxpayer dollars, makes government work better and helps restore the public's trust in the government's ability to perform effectively. Furthermore, existing law requires the government to post online any document that can reasonably be expected to have broad public interest. The 1996 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) require government to make documents in its possession available in an electronic reading room (such as the Internet) if the government expects to receive multiple FOIA requests for the documents. The law also builds in protections for personal privacy and proprietary information. Groups across the political spectrum have raised concerns about Katrina-related contracting and millions of Americans have been directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. These documents meet this standard. In certain instances, government agencies have posted commonly requested documents, a practice which should be adopted for all Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction spending. Putting these documents online in an easily accessible form is easy to do. Summaries already posted by some agencies are inadequate. Only with release of copies of the documents themselves, which includes the detailed contract information, can the government be more accountable and save taxpayer dollars.

For the above reasons, we urge you to make available online in an easily accessible and searchable format all contracts and expenditures related to Hurricane Katrina, in accordance with FOIA, so our country is better able to respond to emergencies, our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and our government earns the trust of the people it serves. To follow up on this matter or address any questions about this letter, please contact Rick Blum or Emily Feldman of OpenTheGovernment.org at 202-234-8494 or info@openthegovernment.org. We look forward to hearing from you soon.

Sincerely,

Mary Alice Baish, Associate Washington Affairs Representative
American Association of Law Libraries

Andy Alexander, Chairman of the Freedom of Information Committee
American Society of Newspaper Editors

Joyce Miller, Director, Community Relations Unit
American Friends Service Committee

Lynne Bradley, Director, Office of Government Relations
American Library Association

John F. Stephens, Ph.D, Executive Director
American Studies Association

Richard Karpel, Executive Director
Association of Alternative Newsweeklies

Suki Dardarian, President
Associated Press Managing Editors

Suzanne Havala Hobbs, Board Member and Chair, FOI and Advocacy Committee
Association of Health Care Journalists

Amanda Hawes, Chair of the Toxics Committee
Cal-COSH

Peter Scheer, Executive Director
California First Amendment Coalition

Mark David Agrast, Senior Fellow
Center for American Progress

Ari Schwartz, Deputy Director
Center for Democracy and Technology

Roberta Baskin, Executive Director
Center for Public Integrity

Pete Weitzel, Coordinator
Coalition of Journalists for Open Government

Celia Viggo Wexler, Vice President for Advocacy
Common Cause

Miles Rapoport, President
Demos: A Network for Ideas and Action

Linda Lenz, President
Education Writers Association

Shari Steele, Executive Director
Electronic Frontier Foundation

David L. Sobel, General Counsel
Electronic Privacy Information Center

Carol Andress, Economic Specialist
Environmental Defense

Judith Robinson, Director of Special Projects
Environmental Health Fund

Steven Aftergood, Project Director
Federation of American Scientists

Conrad Martin, Executive Director
Fund for Constitutional Government

Tom Devine, Legal Director
Government Accountability Project

Howard Pellett, Administrative Coordinator
The Green Party of Skagit County, Anacortes, Washington

Scott Armstrong, Executive Director
The Information Trust

Kay J. Maxwell, President
League of Women Voters of the United States

Michael D. Ostrolenk, Founder/National Director
Liberty Coalition

Renette Dejoie Hall, Executive Editor
Louisiana Weekly Publishing Co. Inc

Steve Bagwell, Managing Editor
McMinnville News-Register, McMinnville, Oregon

R. Bruce Craig, Executive Director
National Coalition for History

Charles N. Davis, Ph.D, Executive Director
National Freedom of Information Coalition

Gai Oglesbee, Domain Manager
National Nuclear Victims for Justice

Thomas S. Blanton, Director
National Security Archive

Sibel D. Edmonds, Director
National Security Whistleblowers Coalition

Paul Gessing, Director of Government Affairs
National Taxpayers Union

Bob Johnson, Executive Director
New Mexico Foundation for Open Government

Kathy Spurlock, Executive Editor
The News-Star, Monroe, LA

Bob Giles, Curator
Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University

Kristin Rothwell, Associate Editor
NurseZone.com

Gary Bass, Executive Director
OMB Watch

Rick Blum, Director
OpenTheGovernment.org

Elliot Mincberg, Legal Director
People for the American Way

Danielle Brian, Executive Director
Project On Government Oversight

Michael F. Hollander, Editor
Racing Information Systems

Lucy Dalglish, Executive Director
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Scott Burger, Acting Chair
Richmond Greens/Green Party, Richmond, Virginia

Alan English, Executive Editor
The Shreveport Times, Shreveport, Louisiana
Society of Environmental Journalists

David Carlson, President
Society of Professional Journalists

Cammie Donaldson, President
Space Coast Progressive Alliance

Steve Ellis, Vice President of Programs
Taxpayers for Common Sense

Dane vonBreichenruchardt, President
US Bill of Rights Foundation

Mark Tapscott, DirectorCenter for Media and Public Policy,
The Heritage Foundation*

Robert J. Freeman, Director
NYS Committee on Open Government*

April D. Gallop, President and CEO
9-11 Elisha Zion Foundation*

Richard A. Knee, Freelance journalist*

*Signing as individuals. Title is for identification purposes only.

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Follow the link to view a group press release on the sign on letter