Group Protests Proposed Cuts in E-gov't Transparency Efforts

A U.S. government budget for 2011 being considered in Congress would make huge cuts to the budget for President Barack Obama's transparency programs, including websites where residents can track government spending and examine data from federal agencies.

The budget for the Electronic Government Fund would be cut from US$34 million to $2 million in the Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, which passed through the Republican-controlled House of Representatives in February. The Senate has yet to pass the legislation.

In recent years, Congress and the president have taken steps to increase government transparency, said the Sunlight Foundation, a transparency advocacy group. The proposed cuts "would put the American people back in the dark," the group said in a letter to congressional leaders sent Monday.

The Electronic Government Fund pays for services such as USASpending.gov, Data.gov and the IT Dashboard, a website that tracks federal IT projects.

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation, defended the services in a letter, saying they help government run more efficiently, save taxpayer money and aid oversight.

An open government is important for democracy, the Sunlight Foundation letter added. The open government initiatives "increase citizen knowledge of and involvement in the democratic process," the letter said. "Fully realized transparency would allow us to track every expense and truly understand how money like that in the electronic government fund flows to federal programs. Government spending and performance data must be available online, in real time, and in machine-readable formats."

A spokeswoman for Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner didn't immediately respond to a request for a comment on the Sunlight Foundation concerns.

Obama has made government transparency programs a top priority in his administration, although he's gotten mixed reviews on the efforts. Obama issued a memo on open government and transparency in January 2009, during his first days in office.

"Transparency promotes accountability and provides information for citizens about what their government is doing," the Obama memo said. "Information maintained by the federal government is a national asset. My administration will take appropriate action, consistent with law and policy, to disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use."

Several Republican members of Congress have also pledged to increase government transparency efforts and examine the policies of the Obama administration.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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