DECEMBER 03, 2009
While Speaker Nancy Pelosi praises herself for ordering the unprecedented online release of House members’ expense reports, the much-ballyhooed disclosures actually provide far less information than in the past because key details have been intentionally erased.
The new online books, posted this week, are being touted as a milestone in congressional transparency, but an analysis conducted by a Capitol Hill newspaper tells a much different story. That’s because congressional administrators eliminated a vast array of details on the individual expenditures before posting them on the internet, making it impossible to determine what most of the money was actually spent on.
This certainly defeats the purpose of the plan, which was ordered by Pelosi with tremendous fanfare earlier this year. Madame Speaker assured that Americans would, for the first time, be able to see exactly how lawmakers spent their tax-funded office accounts. This week she celebrated the reports’ first-ever electronic version as a “full accounting of members’ and officers’ spending for official congressional business.”
The continued publication of these statements online, Pelosi says, will expand accountability to taxpayers and the press. She further pats herself on the back by claiming that under her leadership the House has passed unprecedented disclosure and lobbying reform laws and will continue to operate in a transparent and accountable manner.
The new plan evidently excludes details of how tax dollars are spent by her colleagues. The heavily promoted new disclosures omit items purchased by members, which staffers traveled on taxpayer money or where members rent district offices. Much of the information was available in the past, though not on the internet.
For instance, past reports itemize equipment such as computers, laptops, televisions, cameras and printers while the recently posted information simply categorizes the purchases as “comp hardware purch” or “equipment purchase.” The old books also featured specifics on travel, including members and staffers who took trips and where they went, but the new records omit the details by instead listing a general “commercial transportation” category with no additional facts.
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