U.S. Senator Mark Warner chaired a hearing of the Senate Budget Committee’s Task Force on Government Performance that focused on reducing fraud and abuse by increasing financial transparency in federal government. He welcomed witnesses from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), Sunlight Foundation, and University of Virginia.

Senator Warner began the hearing by calling attention to how inefficient the federal government when it comes to managing taxpayers dollars. “As most of my colleagues here know, I’ve been rather obsessed with addressing our long-term budget challenges,” he said. “The budget debate has mostly focused on spending and revenues – but I believe that government performance should be a part of this discussion.”

He pointed out that improving government performance is one area where it’s possible to make real bipartisan progress. “With the upcoming budget talks and debt ceiling negotiations, Congress must make sure that dollars get spent efficiently,” he said.

Senator Warner noted that the GAO recently released a report that called for Congress to pass legislation to improve federal financial transparency. The report stated that with more than $1 trillion awarded by the government annually through contracts, grants, and loans, “improving transparency of spending is essential to improve accountability.”

Senator Warner’s bipartisan Digital Accountability and Transparency (DATA) Act would take such steps toward improving federal financial reporting. The legislation, which is also co-sponsored by Senator Rob Portman (R-OH), aims to make four important improvements: First, it expands the current USAspending.gov site to include spending data for all federal funds. It also sets government-wide financial data standards. Additionally, it reduces reporting costs based on updated standards for awards recipients such as universities. And, finally, it creates new standards to make sure the data being collected is accurate and useful for oversight.

Witnesses at the hearing today testified about potential improvements that could be made in government and how the DATA Act could play in a role in facilitating increased efficiency of taxpayer dollars. 

Stanley Czerwinski, Director for Strategic Issues for GAO, testified that to continue opening data and improving government performance, Congress must pass legislation like the DATA Act. “In 2006, Congress gave us USASpending.gov,” he said. “In 2009, Congress gave us Recovery.gov. Now we have we have DATA in front of us. And our view in our report, is that to keep the momentum going, you need more legislation. That is at the heart of our report: we believe that legislation is required to keep up with the momentum on transparency.”

As Assistant Vice President for Research Administration at the University of Virginia, Mr. Gerald Kane ensures the responsible stewardship of $306 million a year in research funding, more than 80% of which comes from federal sources. In his testimony, Mr. Kane highlighted examples of duplicative and burdensome reporting requirements that increase the cost of compliance for public institutions without enhancing transparency and accountability. Mr. Kane also testified that the DATA Act would be strong step towards consolidating reporting requirements.

Senator Warner thanked Dr. Kane and the other witnesses for their testimony, and concluded that, “we must have a reliable system in place to track federal funds and compare spending across federal agencies to get the best value for the taxpayer.”

Witness Statement