Things are moving quickly on the $825 billion federal stimulus plan before Congress, so a coalition of taxpayer groups have started a site to pry the bill’s details from the powers that be in Washington.
You can see more of their effort at ReadtheStimulus.org. They include links to the bill itself, committee reports, amendments and other stimulus-related documents.
The Congressional Budget Office also released its analysis of the stimulus plan here. (PDF link)
A few of the highlights: On highway and transit spending, “concerns exist about how quickly state and local governments can adjust their contracting procedures to accommodate the significant increase in the amount of funding.” The bill also includes about $39.5 billion in 2009 and again in 2010 for the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund. The CBO estimates 61 percent of those funds for the states would go to education, with the remainder going to general government.
Meanwhile, Mark Zandi, an economist at Moody’s Economy.com, provided his own analysis of the stimulus plan in testimony to the House Budget Committee today. (PDF link)
Zandi noted that the $825 billion plan ($550 billion in spending with $275 billion in tax cuts) represents about 5.5 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. That puts it below the massive public works program to combat the Great Depression, but higher than the stimulus plans unveiled during the recessions of the early 1980s:
(The $825 billion) is large enough to provide a substantive near-term boost to the economy, but not so large as to result in measurably higher interest rates.
Of particular interest to us in Oklahoma, Zandi also said, “The benefits of a fiscal stimulus are less pronounced in the nation’s agricultural and energy-producing regions.”
For more analysis of the ins and outs of tax cuts and spending, go to the Tax Policy Center.
With the Legislature starting up next week and the bill-filing period over, we’re getting an idea of what issues might come up this session on the open records front.
At an FOI-Oklahoma board meeting yesterday, the Oklahoma Press Association‘s Mark Thomas said his group is tracking more than 80 bills having to do with the Oklahoma Open Records Act or the Open Meetings Act.
Thomas said that number is typical for what his group tracks each session. But he did say that term limits have contributed to the loss of institutional knowledge among legislators. For example, a number of bills that were introduced and died a while ago are making a reappearance from new lawmakers.
Some of this year’s bills make sense from a transparency angle, such as Rep. John Carey’s bill (HB 1049) to make all police incident reports public, not just ones that result in arrests.
Other bills are a little more troubling, mostly because they are too vague in their wording. For example, HB 1546 by Rep. Lee Denney, would seal after-action reports and response plans following “hazards” of any kind. I’m no lawyer, but my reading of this bill means it would cut off access to records detailing agency responses to events like last year’s Country Cottage E.coli outbreak.
From the introduced bill:
Section <24A.28> A. The following information may be kept confidential. …
4. Continuity of operations, plans, emergency response plans, after-action reports, or other records detailing emergency planning, response activities, or vulnerability assessments of a public body or public official, whether the activities relate to an act of terrorism, man-made or natural disaster, or other all-hazards related event;
(The Open Records Act already contains specific exemptions to terrorism investigations.)
Of course, it’s still really early in the process, so this bill and others could be improved or refined. But we need your help to keep an eye on this process. If you see an open records/open meetings bill you like (or hate), please let us know by e-mailing email@example.com or leave a comment below.
Open government advocates will be heartened to know that one of President Obama’s first actions during his first full day on the job was a memo to the Executive Branch regarding the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Among other things, Obama said:
The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a
clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails.
The Government should not keep information confidential merely
because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure,
because errors and failures might be revealed, or because
of speculative or abstract fears.
He goes on to say that “all agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure.”
The tech-heads out there might find this interesting, too:
The presumption of disclosure also means that agencies should
take affirmative steps to make information public. They should
not wait for specific requests from the public. All agencies
should use modern technology to inform citizens about what is
known and done by their Government. Disclosure should be timely.
You can read the full text of the memo here. (PDF link)
President Obama’s inauguration speech, as seen through the data visualization tool Many Eyes:
The latest “wish list” of infrastructure projects from mayors across the country was released over the weekend, and 10 Oklahoma mayors have requested $1.7 billion in funds from the economic stimulus package making its way through Congress.
You can read today’s story here.
Also, we compiled more than 220 projects requested in Oklahoma into a database that’s on the Your Right to Know page. You’ll find the link under “Data.”
(I blogged about an earlier version of the list last week.)
The requirement is part of the draft version of the stimulus bill being developed by House Democrats. You can view a PDF of the proposed legislation here; the Web site information starts on Page 12.
A summary of the bill from House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-Wis.) states the plan will have:
*A historic level of transparency, oversight and accountability will help guarantee taxpayer dollars are spent wisely and Americans can see results for their investment.
*In many instances funds are distributed through existing formulas to programs with proven track records and accountability measures already in place.
*How funds are spent, all announcements of contract and grant competitions and awards, and formula grant allocations must be posted on a special website created by the President.
*Program managers will also be listed so the public knows who to hold accountable.
*Public notification of funding must include a description of the investment funded, the purpose, the total cost and why the activity should be funded with recovery dollars.
*Governors, mayors or others making funding decisions must personally certify that the investment has been fully vetted and is an appropriate use of taxpayer dollars. This will also be placed on the recovery website.
The bill is far from becoming law, but the proposed Web site is good news for open government advocates. Still, some GOP lawmakers are concerned about the sheer size of the stimulus package in the first place.
As Congress debates changes to the second half of the $700 billion Troubled Assets Relief Program, the reporters at ProPublica have been keeping a tally of which banks have qualified for the loan money.
The U.S. House of Representatives, meanwhile, is debating additional changes, including enhanced disclosure from the Treasury Department. That includes a database and “online reports.” The transparency advocates at the Sunlight Foundation have more on that effort.
You can search for other participating banks by downloading the latest Treasury Department report here. (PDF link)
We’ve added a new lobbyist gift database to the Your Right to Know page, just weeks before the new legislative session starts. You’ll find it in the first column under “Data.” (A direct link is here.)
You can search by lawmaker, staffer or official for gifts from lobbyists and their clients from 2006 to 2008. The database uses information filed with the state Ethics Commission.
To help you get an idea of what’s in there, here’s a list of the Top 20 gift-givers from 2006 to 2008:
And here’s the Top 20 recipients in the same time period, although a few of them have since left office:
It’ll be interesting to see the effects of new rules from last July that now put the gift limit at $100 per lawmaker or staffer in each calendar year. The previous limit was $300.
(Full disclosure: My wife, Jennifer, is a former reporter who is now press secretary for the Speaker of the House. She shows up in the lobbying gift database a few times under her maiden name, Mock.)
As the size of President-elect Barack Obama’s proposed economic stimulus plan continues to grow, Oklahoma cities have submitted more than $1.2 billion in projects they deem worthy of funding.
The December report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors shows eight cities across Oklahoma with projects ready to go. Here’s a few totals from the group’s Main Street Stimulus site and the number of jobs each city expects to create:
To see the full list of projects submitted to the U.S. Conference of Mayors last month, you can download this report in PDF format. The Oklahoma projects are from Pages 572-582. (Warning: It’s a 6 MB file.)
For some more background on the requests, read our story from last month.
We’re just a few days away from President-Elect Barack Obama’s inauguration, but federal officials at several agencies have managed to sneak in some last-minute changes to freedom of information regulations.
As one of the most secretive presidential administrations in history gets ready to close up shop, it’s closing a few more things — records. Over the past few months, some federal agencies have issued rules that would eliminate public disclosure of information — or, in some cases, make it more difficult for requesters to get information.
Among the agencies restricting the information flow are the Department of Energy, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Department of Education, ProPublica reports.