Budget cuts may end transparency programs

Wednesday - 3/30/2011, 3:59pm EDT

Daniel Schuman, policy counsel, Sunlight Foundation

Click to hear the interview.

Download mp3

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio

The spending proposal passed in the House last month and considered in the Senate this month would effectively wipe out funding for e-government initiatives, such as USAspending.gov and Data.gov.

The bill would reduce the Electronic Spending Fund from $34 million for the year to $2 million for the remainder of the fiscal year, ending Sept. 30, 2011.

The reduction would "pull the plug" on transparency programs that allow public to access government data, said Daniel Schuman, policy counsel at the Sunlight Foundation.

In a blog, Schuman writes the areas that will be impacted include citizen engagement and collaboration tools.

The not-for-profit organization is issuing a letter to Congress calling for lawmakers to protect the Electronic Spending Fund. Sunlight is collecting signatures from organizations and individuals and will deliver the letter this week, Schuman said.

"An open and accountable government is a prerequisite for democracy. Keeping these programs alive would cost a mere pittance when compared to the value of bringing the federal government in to the sunlight," according to the letter.

If passed, the cuts would set back transparency goals set by President Obama when he took office and vowed to bring more openness under his administration. Elimination of government-wide e-gov initiatives creates a greater burden on agencies to fulfill transparency goals.

At the same time, users of the data who have become accustomed to going to one place for government-wide information will now have to use "different pipelines to cobble together information," Schuman said.

The president did extend current funding levels of $34 million in his fiscal year 2012 budget. However, the future of e-gov initiatives is "anyone's guess," Schuman said.