President’s Budget Moves Spending Transparency Site from GSA to Treasury

The move could be good or bad news for transparency advocates.

President Obama’s fiscal 2014 budget proposal moves control over the spending transparency website out of the General Services Administration and gives it to the Treasury Department.

The budget also requests $5.5 million in additional funding for Treasury to manage the site, a Treasury spokeswoman said. The site was previously paid for with the e-government fund, a pot of congressionally-mandated money devoted to using the Internet and other electronic communications to improve citizen services and public access to government information.

“Treasury will conduct an analysis of the operation and information in USASpending and determine what changes in the medium or long term may be warranted,” the spokeswoman said. “The collection of government wide financial management information is closely aligned with Treasury responsibilities.”

House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., praised the move Thursday.

“Treasury data is vital to giving the American people ‘checkbook level’ detail of how Washington spends their money,” Issa said. “Moving’s operation to Treasury would be a good first step.”

The transfer from GSA to Treasury may be either good or bad news for transparency advocates, said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel for the Sunlight Foundation.

Congress envisioned the 11-year-old e-gov fund as a proving ground for new technology-driven transparency initiatives, he said, so it’s appropriate that the 5-year-old USASpending should move to a permanent home.

The question that remains is whether Treasury is a better permanent home than the Office of Management and Budget, he said. Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel’s office inside OMB previously had some oversight responsibility for USASpending even though it was based at GSA.

On one hand, Treasury may be seen as a less political home for USASpending than the White House-based OMB; on the other hand, OMB has a better bully pulpit to force agencies to report spending and to make other transparency reforms, he said.

Overall, Sunlight would like to see a more detailed rationale for why the transfer was made and whether OMB will have some continuing role with the website, he said.

The USASpending transfer may leave more of the e-gov fund for other transparency initiatives such as the Federal IT Dashboard, which tracks government technology spending.

The President requested $20 million for the e-gov fund this year, but Congress has typically appropriated less money for e-gov than the White House requested.