Effort to require online governmentwide spending reports advances on the Hill

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act would apply stimulus fund reporting practices to all federal programs.

Congressional supporters of a plan to pull all federal spending reports onto one uniform, searchable database believe they've put together a package of cost savings to offset the legislation's more than $500 million price tag, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said Thursday.

Issa would not reveal what's included in the offset package, saying he wanted to get the details hammered down first.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which Issa sponsored in the House, essentially would take processes developed by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which tracks and reports on spending on the $787 billion stimulus bill, and apply them to all government spending.

Supporters say the database will save billions of dollars by making it more difficult for contractors and others to defraud the government, by lowering information technology costs and by reducing errors in transferring spending data between different systems.

The legislation won unanimous approval in June from the House Oversight Committee, which Issa chairs. Since then, the bill has been held up, primarily because a Congressional Budget Office estimate reveals that implementing it will cost $575 million over five years, Issa told audience members at a Congressional Transparency Caucus event.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., has sponsored companion legislation to the DATA in the Senate and President Obama has begun the process of establishing a similar board by executive order.

Issa disputed the CBO price tag Thursday, saying the nonpartisan office hadn't given enough consideration to the project's ultimate cost savings.

"There's no question that if the conversion is done in a timely fashion, this will save money quickly, but the CBO wouldn't score it that way," Issa said. "We need to find [$575 million] to pay for it and we believe we've done that."

The House is required to offset new spending with an equal amount of savings under legislation aimed at keeping the federal deficit in check.

The Transparency Caucus also is pushing legislation to expand whistleblower protections to members of the federal intelligence community and to prohibit agency inspector generals' offices being left vacant or filled by an acting IG, Issa and Transparency Caucus co-chairman Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., said.

Quigley and Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, also sent a letter to the super committee charged with finding $1.5 trillion in savings, urging it to make its proceedings more open.

The transparency event was scheduled to include several members of the bipartisan caucus, but because of a busy floor schedule it was attended only by Issa and Quigley who spoke and took questions for about 10 minutes each.

Correction: This story was corrected to better reflect Congressional rules on budget neutral legislation.