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Senate Backs Online Search of Spending
Friday, September 08, 2006
By ANDREW TAYLOR, Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON — Taxpayers may soon be able to track how the federal government is spending their money with the click of computer mouse.

A far-flung coalition of groups across the political spectrum supports the idea and their efforts were rewarded Thursday as the Senate passed a bill to build a Google-like search engine to allow people to track online approximately $1 trillion in federal grants, contracts, earmarks and loans.

The idea is to open up the federal budget to greater scrutiny and hopefully prevent wasteful spending. Conservatives vow greater scrutiny of"pork barrel"spending while liberals hope to foster a greater appreciation of the good things that the government does.

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., and Barack Obama, D-Ill., passed after Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, dropped his objections. Senate leaders had tried to pass the bill in early August but Stevens and Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.Va., blocked passage by lodging secret"holds"on the bill.

But after a remarkable campaign by Internet bloggers to track down those responsible for the delay, Stevens and Byrd let the measure advance.

"Every American has the right to know how their government spends their money, and then to hold elected officials accountable for those decisions,"Coburn said."Only by fostering a culture of openness, transparency and accountability will Congress come together to address the mounting fiscal challenges that threaten our future prosperity."

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Vast information on federal spending is already available and a host of watchdog groups track the budget. But the measure would make it much easier for non-experts to monitor the spending.

For example, one could type in"Boeing"to find contracts awarded to the aerospace company or"breast cancer research"to see efforts to battle one of the leading killers of women.

The House passed a narrower version of the measure in June. The House version would allow searches of grants _ which often go to nonprofits _ but not contracts awarded to businesses.

"By helping to lift the veil of secrecy in Washington, this database will help make us better legislators, reporters better journalists, and voters more active citizens,"Obama said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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