I thought the new Democratic government was about transparency and disclosure. Apparently, it took a considerable amount of convincing and a Republican introduced bill to publicize how the people who work for us are spending our money.
Let the discovery begin.
From the Wall Street Journal:
WASHINGTON -- The House will begin posting representatives' expense reports online, giving the public easy access to records of the millions of dollars lawmakers spend on staff and items such as catering, cars, computers and TVs.
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.).
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) ordered the postings Wednesday. The move followed recent stories in The Wall Street Journal examining lawmakers' office expenditures that are kept in voluminous paper records on Capitol Hill.
A spokesman for the speaker said her action wasn't prompted by the articles, which found mostly routine spending on staff salaries, travel and office rent, as well as supplies, printing and mailing. The 2008 reports also showed taxpayer money spent on luxury car leases, big-screen TVs, pricey laptops known as "Toughbooks" and fresh-cut flower arrangements.
House and Senate lawmakers receive annual allowances of $1.3 million to $4.5 million to run their offices. All the expenditures reviewed by the Journal were legal, and the disclosures complied with congressional rules.
The policy of offering only paper records was in stark contrast to the Obama administration's call for more transparency, such as his promise to post online spending details of the government's $787 billion stimulus plan. The House and Senate recently passed rules requiring online posting of documents on travel and lobbying.
In a letter Wednesday to House Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard, Mrs. Pelosi asked the office expense reports be put online at the "earliest date." A spokesman for Mr. Beard said the expense reports would be posted by Aug. 31.
Electronic versions of the ink-and-paper reports will initially be posted in PDF format. The House "is examining ways" to enhance the ability to search the documents when it rolls out a new internal financial-processing system during the 112th Congress, said a statement from Mr. Beard's office. Reports from previous years won't be posted online.
"The House is making every effort to operate in a transparent manner and online publication of these reports will expand accountability to taxpayers and the press," Mrs. Pelosi said in her letter.
Mrs. Pelosi declined Wednesday to produce receipts for her own office expenditures.
"The speaker fully complies with required policies and procedures with respect to the statement of disbursements," said spokesman Drew Hammill.
New reports covering first-quarter spending this year showed that as congressional leaders came under pressure to rein in government expenditures, some curbed their own outlays.
Mrs. Pelosi, for instance, kept her leadership office stocked with fresh flowers, but she sacked her high-end Georgetown florist in December, switching to a cheaper shop.
Minority Leader John Boehner, a frequent critic of Democratic spending, reported a 16.8% increase in spending for his own leadership office, compared with the first three months of 2008, the reports said. One new expense was the hiring of two new communications aides.
A spokesman said Mr. Boehner beefed up his staff after Democrats took over the White House and fattened their majorities in the House and Senate.
Open-government advocates on Wednesday applauded Mrs. Pelosi's announcement.
"Now that the light has been shined on the problem some people are running for the corners while others are trying to explain how they're going to change things. It's good to see the speaker is on the side of disclosure," said Pete Sepp, spokesman of the Virginia-based National Taxpayers Union.
The Senate has lagged in several respects regarding public disclosure of tax-supported expenditures.
Senators, for example, don't have to provide any details of their spending on rent for their offices back home, nor of money spent on communications, utilities, supplies and materials. Those costs typically total millions of dollars each year. Many members spend $100,000 or more on office rent and related costs, according to reports.
"We are in the process of assessing that and seeing what's involved," because some expense documents are not yet filed electronically, said Jean Bordewich, staff director of the Senate Rules Committee, which oversees the Senate office that compiles the reports.
Congress passed a rule change in late 2000 that allowed senators to avoid publicly disclosing details of such spending. Instead, only a total for each of the categories is listed in the Senate's semiannual reports.
At the time, lawmakers said the large volume of information made the reports too unwieldy.
Jock Friedly of LegiStorm, a nonpartisan Web site documenting congressional information, praised the House speaker's action and said the Senate should take similar steps. "It's about time," he said.—John D. McKinnon contributed to this article.