In advance of Sunshine Week, some in Congress are getting serious about transparency. Introduced today by Representative Mike Quigley (D-Ill.), the Transparency In Government Act (TGA) is a good-government reform omnibus bill.
There is a lot to like in this bill, including more transparency for Congress, lobbying, the executive branch, and federal spending on contractors and grantees. The Project On Government Oversight supports the bill overall, but here are our top ten reforms included in the bill:
1. Making Congress more open.
As we’ve said before, congressional committees too often make important decisions behind closed doors. The TGA requires more committee transparency and the online publication of each Member’s recorded votes in a searchable format.
2. Bringing the Freedom of Information Act into the 21st Century.
FOIA provisions in the TGA—like those in the FOIA Oversight and Implementation Act, which POGO strongly supports—tackle some of the bigger barriers to information access. The bill requires public posting of responses to FOIA requests in a searchable database and limits the use of overly broad or unnecessary b(3) exemptions. It also requires the use of FOIAOnline—envisioned as the one-stop-shop website for all FOIA requests—by all agencies and departments.
3. Improving the tracking of taxpayer dollars on USASpending.gov.
As POGO has detailed, USASpending.gov is a greatly flawed platform for financial spending data. Adding sub-contractor/sub-grantee data and indicating congressionally directed spending will bring welcome improvements to the type of data available, while the requirement of annual audits by agency inspectors general will help improve the quality of the data.
4. Giving the public access to valuable, taxpayer-funded congressional research.
5. Requiring greater disclosure of congressional ethics information.
Disclosure of congressional finance information, foreign travel, and gifts will help taxpayers hold Congress accountable.
6. Shining a light on foreign lobbyists.
POGO has been conducting an investigation into how lobbyists representing the interests of foreign countries and businesses seek to influence U.S. policy and federal spending. We need more transparency on the foreign influence-peddling.
7. Redefining “lobbyist.”
POGO likes the idea of expanding the definition of lobbyist for disclosure purposes since the current definition has a 20 percent of time-spent-lobbying loophole that does not capture the vast majority of influence-peddling.
8. Improving access to information concerning lobbying of the executive branch.
POGO strongly supports greater transparency of contacts between grantees and contractors and the government agencies that work with them. There’s great potential for companies to pay to play. Knowing who has access to influence the executive branch and what they’re using it for is important.
9. Setting the bar higher for contract awardees.
Conditions for earning a contract will require certain Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) certifications and meeting the requirements of the Clean Contracting Act. Making contractors more accountable will make the whole contracting system more effective.
10. Expanding and improving the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS) database.
These provisions require archiving FAPIIS data for 10 years and expanding the type of settlements posted—a step toward a more thorough picture of federal contract, grant, and loan awardees. Structural and data quality flaws have plagued the database; requiring the unique identifier of each award recipient to match FAPIIS information will help improve quality.
While it’s hard to imagine a bill of this breadth making it through a deeply divided Congress, we love that Representative Quigley is offering a bold vision. Also, there is likely to be bipartisan agreement around several of these reforms individually or in smaller groupings. We hope to work with Representative Quigley and Members on both sides of the aisle to advance these good-government policies.