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House expenses go online

By Ben Pershing
Forty-five years after Congress first began publishing its expenditures, the House took another step into the modern age Monday by putting those numbers somewhere the public can actually find them -- the Internet.

After years of lobbying by watchdog groups and other critics, the House has finally begun posting electronic copies of its Statement of Disbursements, a detailed accounting of how every House office -- including those of members, committees and support organizations -- spends its money. The numbers include everything from staff salaries to expenses for mundane office items such as water and magazine subscriptions.

Only one volume is online so far at disbursements.house.gov, covering July 1 through Sept. 30. At close to 3,400 pages, the document is available in one massive (9.4 MB) PDF file or three smaller ones. Unwieldy as the electronic files might be, they still represent a stark change from the old (and still available) version of the disbursements, which came only in thick, expensive books full of tiny type.

The House has been publishing its disbursements since 1964, but only this past June did Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) finally order the chamber's Chief Administrative Officer to begin posting them online. In a statement issued by her office Monday, Pelosi said, "The continued publication of these statements online will expand accountability to taxpayers and the press."

The Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit watchdog group, said on its blog that the posting Monday showed "a proactive stance from the US House" but is "just a first step." The foundation and other groups hope eventually for the data to be released more quickly and in a format easier to search and digest than a giant PDF.

LegiStorm, a private Web site, already publishes some congressional expenditures online, allowing users to look at salary data for Hill staffers. But the site does not publish the complete Statement of Disbursements in one file, as the House now does.

The Senate is also working toward putting its expenses online, though that effort is not expected to bear fruit until 2011.

By Ben Pershing  |  November 30, 2009; 2:42 PM ET
Categories:  House  
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Comments

I expect once this data is scrutinized, some questionable expenses will be highlighted, and the answer will be that clerical errors were responsible, a la the reporting on the so-called "Recovery Act."

Nothing ever changes for the better in Washington. It only gets worse.

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | November 30, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

"Pelosi said, 'The continued publication of these statements online will expand accountability to taxpayers and the press.'"

Pelosi and the rest of Congress are accountable to the PEOPLE of this country. Not merely to the "taxpayers" and "the press." It's disturbing that Pelosi unthinkingly -- and panderingly -- characterizes her accountability so sloppily.

Posted by: targusowlkiln | November 30, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

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