Toss the Abacus, Uncle Sam

Published: May 18, 2009

Author: Array

The time has long since passed for the federal government to report how taxpayers’ money is spent as quickly as it actually spends it. On his first full day in office, President Obama promised to create “an unprecedented level of openness in Government” that would “disclose information rapidly in forms that the public can readily find and use.”  I intend to help him.

That’s why I proposed legislation last week to create real transparency that would allow government officials and the public to track the use of TARP funds and unlock the value of toxic mortgage assets. H.R. 2392, the Government Information Transparency Act, is a real step towards implementing the kind of change and transparency that Americans expect from Washington.

If passed, this act would greatly simplify and standardize the collection, analysis and dissemination of business information collected by federal agencies with the implementation of a 21st century technology known as Extensive Business Reporting Language (XBRL). In fact, XBRL is fast becoming the standard means of communicating business information quickly and accurately. There is no good reason why the United States government should lag behind.

XBRL is already used as a reporting standard in approximately 40 countries around the world, and all U.S. banks are currently required to disclose information to the FDIC in this format. Moreover, the Securities and Exchange Commission recently approved a final rule mandating the use of XBRL for all public companies, with some required to comply starting in June of 2009.

But as it now stands, Uncle Sam is using an abacus to balance his books in a calculator age.

Since President Obama took office and announced that his administration would launch a new era of government transparency, an astounding $787 billion “spendulous” package and a record budget proposal of $3.53 trillion have passed through Congress. Yet to date, there has been no real accountability for how the taxpayers’ money is being spent.

By implementing the XBRL format for financial information that is already required to be disclosed across the federal bureaucracy, the general public will finally have access to accurate and up-to-date information on how their money is being used by bailed-out financial institutions. Essentially, H.R. 2392 is a desperately needed shot of WD-40 to the corroded cogs of accountability to taxpayers.

Now that’s change we can believe in.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) represents the 49th District of California and is the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.