Strange Bedfellows Insist on Transparency

Published August 1, 2006

When the conservative Eagle Forum and the liberal National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF) come together on an issue, there’s no doubt it’s a position that bridges a broad range of political perspectives.

Such is the case with transparency in the awarding of federal grants and contracts. Eagle Forum President Phyllis Schlafly and NGLTF Executive Director Matt Foreman on June 28 joined nearly two dozen other officials of state and national organizations in signing a letter to the U.S. Senate advocating the creation of a public Web site that would list information on every federal grant and contract.

State and local elected officials who support this idea should consider writing to members of their congressional delegation.

An Open Letter to the United States Senate: Support a Full Accounting of Federal Grants!

Dear Senator:

On behalf of the millions of taxpaying citizens represented by the groups signed below, we strongly urge you to support S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. The bill, sponsored by Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) and co-sponsored by colleagues John McCain (R-AZ), Barack Obama (D-IL), and Tom Carper (D-DE), would direct the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a publicly-available website that would list every entity receiving federal grants or contracts and the totals awarded for the last ten fiscal years. Such a website would entail very little cost and would greatly increase transparency in the distribution of government funding. At last, those who most deserve to know about this process–the American people–would have the tool they need to conduct their own evaluations of Washington’s priorities.

It is essentially impossible for the average citizen to obtain such an accounting today. According to the General Services Administration, the federal government provides roughly $300 billion in grants to 30,000 organizations, ranging from rail and transit security to youth theater troupes. Information is spread across innumerable agencies, frequently lacks specificity, and is not always available to the public. All too often, one must resort to filing a request under the Freedom of Information Act to truly determine the extent or duration of funding. Americans should not be forced to navigate the treacherous waters of bureaucracy just to find out who is receiving their tax dollars.

In the past, it was not feasible to have a centralized listing of the kinds of organizations and activities that received government monies. The effort needed to calculate, coordinate, and print such a listing would have been enormous, and the final product may well have required a forklift to transport. But today, with incredible increases in computing power and the advent of the Internet, such an undertaking is far less daunting. In fact, a precedent has been set by, a website launched by the OMB to monitor the performance of more than 800 federal programs. has made program review more transparent and accessible to the public.

Advocates from all points on the spectrum of opinion share the common notion that transparency of and public access to government information is vital to the health of our political system. It is for this reason that S. 2590 has broad appeal. Budget watchdogs can support the legislation because it would reveal duplicative or superfluous federal funding. Environmentalists can support it because it would detail exactly how much federal money goes to organizations and practices they deem to be ecologically harmful. Traditional values groups can support the legislation because it would allow them to track funding for causes they hold to be inimical to their own. The list of those with a stake in S. 2590, from civil libertarians to defense and foreign-policy reformers, goes on and on. Reasonable people of all political viewpoints should unite in support of S. 2590, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, in the interest of good governance.


John Berthoud
National Taxpayers Union

Danielle Brian
Executive Director
Project on Government Oversight

Jon Coupal
American Tax Reduction Movement

Tom Devine
Legal Director
Government Accountability Project

Steve Ellis
Vice President of Programs
Taxpayers for Common Sense

Matt Foreman
Executive Director
National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Patrick C. Guerriero
Log Cabin Republicans

Doug Kagan
Nebraska Taxpayers for Freedom

Michelle Korsmo
Executive Vice President
Americans for Prosperity

William Lauderback
Executive Vice President
The American Conservative Union

Jeff Mazzella
Center for Individual Freedom

Thomas McClusky
Vice President of Government Affairs
Family Research Council

Jane Orient, M.D.
Executive Director
Association of American Physicians and Surgeons

Michael D. Ostrolenk
National Director
Liberty Coalition

Richard O. Rowland
Grassroot Institute of Hawaii

Gary Ruskin
Congressional Accountability Project

Thomas A. Schatz
Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Phyllis Schlafly
President and Founder
Eagle Forum

Samuel M. Slom
Small Business Hawaii

William Westmiller
National Chairman
Republican Liberty Caucus

Timothy M. Wise
Arlington County Taxpayers Association