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Budget Deals Deep Cuts to Obama Administration's Transparency Sites

Open government advocates worried.

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Though the budget deal struck by lawmakers averted a shutdown of the federal government, it still has open-government advocates worried about a shutdown of another sort: a shutdown in transparency. 

Lawmakers in both houses passed a six-month spending bill last week, dealing a deep cut [1] [PDF] to key transparency initiatives. Some of those initiatives were launched with much fanfare at the outset of the Obama administration.

Under the budget compromise, funds for the Electronic Government Fund — which supports a number of government transparency websites — were cut by about 75 percent, from $34 million in 2010 down to $8 million. While this isn’t as drastic as the earlier House proposal that would have slashed funding to $2 million [2], it’s still sizeable compared to the administration’s original request of $35 million.

The reduction has riled transparency groups [3], which fear that the loss of funding could cripple or completely eliminate sites such as USASpending.gov, Data.gov and IT Dashboard.

As the Washington Post’s Federal Eye blog notes [4], USASpending.gov — a repository for data on federal contracts — operates under a legislative mandate. Data.gov [5], a clearinghouse of data from federal agencies, and IT Dashboard [6], a site that tracks the progress of the government’s IT investments, were created by executive orders and are not guaranteed federal funding, according to the Post.

Sunlight Foundation launched a campaign [7] that protested the cuts down to the final hours. The group has in the past pointed out the deficiencies and inaccuracies [8] of some of these websites, but has defended the need for their continued existence as a pillar of open government [9]. Some of the sites have also helped the government better track spending and identify savings [10].  

At the moment, it’s still unclear which sites would be shut down as a result of the cuts.

“We are going to have to make some tough decisions around which systems are going to have to go off-line versus what can be supported with $8 million in funds,” Federal Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra told lawmakers [11] at a Senate hearing this week. “We haven’t had a chance to sit down and prioritize systems.”

We’ve called the General Services Administration for more details and will update if we hear back.

Follow on Twitter: @mariancw [12]

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