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Bill Increasing Transparency and Limiting Agency Travel & Conferences Passes House
By Ed Gilman
Apr 28, 2012 - 5:07:34 AM

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Congressman Mike Michaud has praised House passage of H.R. 2146, the Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act, which is a bipartisan bill to promote accountability and transparency in federal spending. The bill also includes limits on federal agency travel expenses and spending on agency conferences.

Last week, Michaud and his fellow colleagues on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee's Subcommittee on Economic Development, Public Buildings and Emergency Management held a hearing on the General Services Administration's (GSA) waste of taxpayer dollars on a lavish conference, as well as other incidents of waste and abuse of taxpayer dollars.

"This is something that is long overdue," said Michaud. "Additional transparency will greatly improve how federal agencies spend taxpayers' money. I'm pleased that the limits on conferences and travel will help make sure a junket similar to the recently investigated GSA scandal doesn't happen again."

An overview of the key provisions of the bill.

Creating New Transparency for Federal Spending -- Requiring Spending to be Reported by Both Agencies and Recipients

The DATA Act imposes a universal reporting requirement for recipients of federal grants, loans, and contracts. It also requires federal agencies to publicly report all of their obligations and expenditures -- encompassing both external spending, such as grants, loans, and contracts, and internal spending on salaries, supplies, and facilities.

The DATA Act provides for recipient-reported and agency-reported spending information to be disclosed publicly on a single online platform.

To ensure these two categories of information may be easily searched and analyzed, the bill imposes common data identifiers and electronic reporting standards on recipients and agencies alike.

To implement these provisions, the bill establishes the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency (FAST) Commission, which is charged with collecting federal spending information and publishing that information in formats that make it easy to search, sort, and download.

The FAST Commission is a direct successor to the Recovery Board. It will build on the ground-breaking work done by the Recovery Board, which has been posting online information on federal spending under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) since 2009.

Like the Recovery Board, the FAST Commission will be an independent federal entity with a chairperson appointed by the President.

Limiting Federal Agency Travel Expenses and Spending on Agency Conferences

The bill limits the amounts that agencies could obligate for expenditures for travel expenses, for each of fiscal years 2012 through 2016, to 80 percent of the aggregate amount of such expenses for FY 2010.

Under the bill, no agency could spend more than $500,000 to support a single conference.

The measure stipulates that no agency could pay travel expenses for more than 50 agency employees who are stationed in the United States for any international conference occurring outside of the United States, unless the State Department determines that attendance for the employees is in the national interest.

The bill requires that each federal agency, at the beginning of each quarter of each fiscal year, post on its public website a report on each conference for which the agency paid travel expenses during the preceding three months.

The report on each conference must include the primary sponsor of the conference; the location of the conference; and the itemized expenses paid by the agency, including travel expenses, the cost of scouting for and selecting the location of the conference, and any agency expenditures to otherwise support the conference.

The measure also requires each agency to post on its website detailed information on any presentation made by an employee of the agency at a conference, including any minutes relating to the presentation; any speech delivered; any visual exhibit; and any video, digital, or audio recordings of the conference.

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