The fallout from the British Parliament expenses scandal has crossed the pond and landed squarely in Congress.
The Wall Street Journal published a story over the weekend about how hard it is to review the office and travel expenses of members of Congress. Now, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has asked the chief administrative officer of the House of Representatives to publish members’ expenses online. On her blog, she released a copy of the letter:
… For well over 100 years the United States House of Representatives has compiled and published, on a quarterly basis, a public Statement of Disbursements documenting the expenditures of each Congressional, Committee, Leadership, and administrative office. This publication provides an accurate accounting of the manner in which the House and its Members and officers spend all of the funds appropriated for the conduct of official business.
In the past, this publication has been made available in the Legislative Resource Center or by purchase from the United States Government Printing Office. However, this means for publishing material does not allow all interested parties to review the information contained in the reports. Consistent with my goal to increase transparency and ensure greater accountability to the public, please take all steps necessary to ensure that the quarterly Statement of Disbursements be made available online free of charge to the public and on a suitable House website.
Several organizations, such as LegiStorm and the National Taxpayers Union, already take parts of the published books of expenses and enter them into databases and spreadsheets. But it’s a cumbersome process, as this humorous video from the National Taxpayers Union shows:
What I hope is that when the House does put its expenses online, they put it in a machine-readable format (such as .xml, .csv, .xls) that can easily be brought into a spreadsheet or database for analysis. Posting a PDF of the book would be counterproductive. And we’ll have to wait and see if the U.S. Senate follows suit.
UPDATE (6/4/09): The Wall Street Journal reported today that U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., has asked Senate officials to publish that chamber’s expenses online:
Separately, Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) said Wednesday he would introduce a bill requiring the expense records be posted online in the Senate, as well. Such disclosures are “something that we will take a look at,” said Jim Manley, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid (D., Nev.).
Written by Paul Monies