White House, Congress at Odds over Budget Openness

By Justin Rood

Nov 15, 2007 12:45pm

Watchdogs say congressional Democrats are removing transparency from part of the government’s spending process, a position that appears to conflict with a policy of openness by the Bush White House. The issue is obscure but important: legislation that would effectively "ban the public from having timely access to budget information for the Transportation Department," as one open government advocate described it to Cox News Service, which broke the story. A newly released House-Senate conference report attached to the 2008 transportation spending bill, includes a provision that would delay by several months the public release of the administration’s spending priorities for the Transportation Department. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. Conference deliberations are conducted behind closed doors. The provision did not appear in either the House or Senate versions of the bill, Cox reports. In February, the White House implemented a new policy of making public its spending requests for all executive branch agencies, via the Internet. The new congressional measure would delay the public release of Transportation Department figures until June, several months into the
congressional appropriations process, according to Patrice McDermott, executive director of OpenTheGovernment.org, a nonpartisan coalition of antisecrecy advocates. The provision is not new, but this year it appears to conflict with the new White House policy.  The ban previously appeared in the 2006 transportation spending law. This would be the first time the language has been introduced since the new White House budget disclosure policy was in effect. House and Senate appropriations aides differed as to whether that law was in effect this year. A Senate aide who would not be named said that the legislation only prohibits the Transportation Department from "hand-delivering" paper copies of the budget request to anyone in Congress but the appropriations committees, and does not inhibit it from posting the information on its Web site. The aide noted that the Senate committee routinely shares that material with other panels, and that the House bore responsibility for the provision. Calls to the Democratic chairs of the House and Senate transportation appropriations subcommittees, which manage the bill containing the surprise language, did not elicit comments. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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