Keep post-Katrina contracting transparent
Groups urge President to place reconstruction bids online
Dear President Bush:
Congress has put $62.3 billion into Hurricane Katrina relief, with billions more expected in help for Gulf Coast recovery efforts. With the federal government spending so much so quickly, opportunities for waste and fraud abound. To help find and stop misuse of taxpayer dollars, Congress, reporters, and the public must be informed of how the dollars are spent. We call on President Bush to post on the Internet copies of every contract, requisition, task/delivery order, agreement or other authorization for spending on Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction as soon as contracts are signed, checks are approved or money is disbursed. For such spending that has already occurred, we urge you to direct agencies to put such information online as soon as possible.
Posting vital spending documents online would help the government and taxpayers alike in several ways. Public disclosure will speed the government's ability to track down and stop abuses. Disclosure will inform public debate about the government's response to Hurricane Katrina. In general, public disclosure deters fraud and abuse, so taxpayer dollars may be saved before money is spent. Ultimately, making these documents available online and accessible through a single, searchable website saves taxpayer dollars, makes government work better and helps restore the public's trust in the government's ability to perform effectively.
Furthermore, existing law requires the government to post online any document that can reasonably be expected to have broad public interest. The 1996 amendments to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) require government to make documents in its possession available in an electronic reading room (such as the Internet) if the government expects to receive multiple FOIA requests for the documents. Groups across the political spectrum have raised concerns about Katrina-related contracting and millions of Americans have been directly affected by Hurricane Katrina. These documents meet this standard. In certain instances, government agencies have posted commonly requested documents, a practice which should be adopted for all Hurricane Katrina relief and reconstruction spending.
Putting these documents online in an easily accessible form is easy to do. Summaries already posted by some agencies are inadequate. Only with release of copies of the documents themselves, which includes the detailed contract information, can the government be more accountable and save taxpayer dollars.
For the above reasons, we urge you to make available online in an easily accessible and searchable format all contracts and expenditures related to Hurricane Katrina, so our country is better able to respond to emergencies, our taxpayer dollars are spent wisely, and our government earns the trust of the people it serves.
To follow up on this matter or address any questions about this letter, please contact Rick Blum or Emily Feldman of OpenTheGovernment.org at 202-234-8494 or firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to hearing from you soon.
American Society of Newspaper Editors
Center for American Progress
Electronic Privacy Information Center
Federation of American Scientists
National Security Archive
People for the American Way
Project on Government Oversight
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Society of Professional Journalists Mark Tapscott, The Heritage Foundation*
*Signing as an individual