Bailout Data may Go Online
One year after the Wall Street meltdown, Congress is considering a bill that would build a massive database to track bailout funds.
As envisioned, the database will collect information from some two dozen federal agencies that administer various aspects of the $700 billion in the federal Troubled Assets Relief Program (TARP). That money has been used to bail out banks and other financial institutions, including American International Group Inc., which laid off tech workers while it paid bonuses .
If the bill to create a centralized database makes it through Congress, President Obama may have no reason to reject it. The White House has been pushing for open government data and has built new services, such as Data.gov and Recovery.gov, which tracks stimulus spending.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) , who introduced the legislation (HR 1242), has not offered a cost estimate but is adamant about the need to track the funds. Maloney said she wants a technology that's capable of monitoring spending in near real time.
At a House Committee on Financial Services subcommittee hearing today, Maloney said the TARP data isn't usable. "You have to go to 25 different agencies to put it together," she told the committee.
The TARP legislation previously drew interest from the IT industry because of an amendment that set restrictions on H-1B visa use by banks receiving bailout money.
Some Republicans on the committee also spoke in support of a database, including U.S. Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), who complained that the TARP legislation was passed without any provisions for accountability. "Now we have a chance to reset our capabilities to oversee this type of program," she said.
If there is a battle over the database bill or its implementation, it may focus on how much of the TARP data is put online for public access.
Ari Schwartz, vice president of the Center for Democracy and Technology, urged the committee to ensure that the TARP data is disclosed online, which would make it possible for anyone "to analyze the data, reuse it and present it in novel ways, and uncover risky practices among TARP institutions."
Companies that may be interested in building the database also testified, including Stephen Horn, vice president of master data management and integration services for Dow Jones Enterprise Media Group. Horn said that reporting procedures are not only missing from the TARP but from almost all federal programs that distribute federal funds to private institutions.
Dilip Krishna, vice president of Teradata Corp., a database management and analytic company in Miamisburg, Ohio, said in his testimony that "transparency is the cornerstone of financial oversight." Analytics firm the SAS Institute Inc., in Cary, N.C., was also represented at the hearing.