The Washington Post reports today that S.2590 was approved by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee last Thursday. A fella from Forrester Research claims that it would be “feasible” but “a huge undertaking,” natch, primarily because of the political implications associated with publishing contracts and grants awards information. The Forrester analyst notes that ’ ”Vendors don’t want their competitors to know what they’re doing and what they’re winning,“ ‘ and indeed this is likely to be true.
This comment belies a pretty serious misconception, though. Most people, I think, believe that government spends most of its money on contracts and, consequently, that funding should be scrutinized to the nth degree. As we discovered at the NGP, grants accounted for $441 billion (21.45%) of the Federal government’s spending in 2003 while procurements constituted only $327.4 billion (15.9%). (Since 2003 grant funding has been increasing and is now estimated at $540 billion per year.)
So if we want to better monitor how government is spending our money (and it is our money), greater emphasis should be placed on the transparency of grant awards.
The above statistics neatly illustrate a little-recognized fact: grants are the means through which the people’s wishes are realized, while contracts are the means through which those wishes are supported. Think of it this way: the FAA can contract with me with build a system to track how the agency is funding airport construction, but will issue a grant to a state or city to fund the actual building of that airport.
Contracts support grants — and grants constitute far greater amounts than contracts ever will.
So S.2590 proceeds apace. And while we’re on the subject, can someone please translate this, the note describing the last major action on the bill: “Ordered to be reported with an amendment in the nature of a substitute favorably.” What the heck does that mean?!
[Update, 7/31/06, 11:10] GovExec has also posted a story on this bill’s approval.