Appearances notwithstanding, transparency board still at work


Casual observers might be forgiven for thinking that things are a bit slow over at the Government Accountability and Transparency Board.  This is the 11-member panel, you may recall, created last summer by President Obama as “a critical next step” in White House efforts to cut costs, crack down on fraud and open up the government’s books to the public.

Almost five months after the board’s chairman, Earl Devaney, retired, Obama hasn’t named a replacement. During the same time, the panel, made up mostly of inspectors general and financial management folk, has met just once, in April. But work on recommendations offered by the board in a December report is proceeding “diligently and collaboratively” between agencies, the Office of Management and Budget and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, OMB spokeswoman Moira Mack said in an email.

The April session offered a chance to discuss implementation, Mack said, adding that a progress report is in the works. The board has another meeting scheduled for June 19.

In those December recommendations, the board urged adoption of a comprehensive, government-wide framework to track and oversee spending.  The recommendations also incorporated a pet cause of Devaney:  A universal award identification system for government grants, contracts and loans to replace the existing agency-centric approach. This week, however, Devaney endorsed the rival DATA Act, a bill introduced last year that basically shares the same goals, but would also create an independent commission to oversee implementation.

That tipped it for Devaney, according to his column published in The Hill newspaper. Nothing spurs bureaucratic change faster than an act of Congress, he said. Without legislation, “the government’s response will be a never-ending round of unobtainable consensus building and an onslaught of new pilot projects, all designed to show some action, but really only masking their bureaucratic fears of losing control to a truly independent commission.”

In its current form, however, the DATA Act faces opposition from state officials who label its proposed reporting requirements an unfunded mandate. Here, for example, is what the National Conference of State Legislatures said after the bill won House approval last month:

“While NCSL agrees transparency and accountability should go hand-in-hand with federal spending, states should not be expected to provide the funds to make this possible. Another unfunded federal mandate as states slowly recover from the recession is the wrong way to go.”

The Senate has not yet taken up the DATA Act.


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