July 3, 2006


On Right and Left, a Push for Government Openness (JASON DePARLE, 7/03/06, NY Times)

[Senator Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma,] wants to create a public database, searchable over the Internet, that would list most government contracts and grants — exposing hundreds of billions in annual spending to instant desktop view.

Type in "Halliburton," the military contractor, or "Sierra Club," the environmental group, for example, and a search engine would show all the federal money they receive. A search for the terms "Alaska" and "bridges" would expose a certain $223 million span to Gravina Island (population 50) that critics call the "Bridge to Nowhere."

While advocating for openness, Mr. Coburn is also placing a philosophical bet that the more the public learns about federal spending, the less it will want.

"Sunshine's the best thing we've got to control waste, fraud and abuse," he said. "It's also the best thing we've got to control stupidity. It'll be a force for the government we need."

But Mr. Coburn's plan, hailed by conservatives, is also sponsored by a Democrat, Senator Barack Obama of Illinois, and applauded by liberal groups that support activist government. The result is a showcase of clashing assumptions and the oddest of coalitions, uniting Phyllis Schlafly, a prominent critic of gay rights, with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.

Let the sun shine in.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 3, 2006 10:42 AM

I have already written Senator Obama to tell him what a great idea I think this is.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 3, 2006 11:23 AM

Initiate countdown till OJ proposes adding the intelligence agencies to this project.... 10..9..8...

Posted by: Jay at July 3, 2006 11:26 AM

Calling Halliburton a "military contractor" shows that Mr. DeParle can be safely disregarded as a source of information on any subject whatsoever.

Posted by: b at July 3, 2006 1:55 PM

This ambitious project in itself would be a $100MM boondoggle. How would an independent group take a piece of legislation,with amends, court opions, etc., maybe 300 or 400 pages long and understand it enough to enter into a database that makes sense to a layman? Who knows all the keywords like bridge to nowhere? Without them Gravina, or anything other pork project, would be meaningless.

This project sounds like just another pork project.

Posted by: Tom Wall at July 3, 2006 3:17 PM

Google does it for web sites--all the government has to do is put everything on-line.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2006 4:55 PM

FEC already makes political donations data available and opensecrets.org makes it accessible.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 3, 2006 5:52 PM

So all you have to do is combine it with every piece of paper the government generates.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2006 5:57 PM

Orrin/David, I wholeheartedly agree it would be a great thing to have access to but the problem is the admin. of it. You can't lay thousands of pages of preliminary drivel on the public and expect them to understand the crux of the whole thing. Most people that read your blog are educated and understand the way of the World, but there are millions out there that can't. A large city that writes an ordinance prohibiting spitting on the sidewalk doesn't mention the word "Spitting" anywhere in it. How in the World can you expect the average laymen to understand a complex bill that meanders thru several layers of wording past, present, and future, understand exactly what it means? That is my point. To administer an undertaking like this so it would be beneficial (to the public) would be almost impossible.

Maybe I'm underestimating my fellow man but I think most would access the thing one time and then call it quits. Good idea though.

Posted by: Tom Wall at July 3, 2006 6:47 PM


Who cares if not everyone will understand anything and no one will get everything? Some will find something useful.

Posted by: oj at July 3, 2006 6:50 PM

Tom: It'll be no more used than opensecrets.org is. Use isn't the main point.

Posted by: David Cohen at July 3, 2006 10:16 PM


It would be useless in the previous, Old Media regime, but this is one place where weblogs are in fact a serious force. All it takes is one guy to sit down and paw through the open stuff and make it accessible, at which point it will spread rapidly through the blogosphere if it's interesting.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at July 3, 2006 10:21 PM