TOOLBOX: New Resources for Tracking FED Spending Now Out

January 2, 2008

Some new, sharper tools are available for reporters who want to investigate patterns of federal spending or specific cases of interest.

After a year of deep-breathing, the efficiency mavens at the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) have finally gone live withUSAspending.gov, a site which Congress ordered them to create so the public could track government spending.

The site allows users to make a number of useful online queries about grant and contract spending. Localizable queries will be especially useful to local reporters. The site also provides raw data, a boon for computer-assisted-reporting (CAR) geeks.

But early reviewers of the service couldn't help getting the message that OMB really didn't want anyone to use it, or wanted the public to fear they might be prosecuted as terrorists for wanting to know about government spending. We quote verbatim the red-letter warning at the bottom of the site's front page: "WARNING: This is a United States Federal Government computer system that is "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY." This system is subject to monitoring. Therefore, no expectation of privacy is to be assumed. Individuals found performing unauthorized activities are subject to disciplinary action including criminal prosecution."

Another site for tracking spending, launched by the agile, efficient public-interest group OMB Watch to show OMB how to do it, isFedSpending.org. That site was just upgraded to its 3.0 version. It is funded by the Sunlight Foundation.

Another site possibly useful for trackers of pork is OMB's earmarks page.