Obama breaks campaign pledge of more government contract transparency

In his 2008 campaign, President Barack Obama promised to produce a public database that would show information about federal contractors and their lobbying habits.

But Obama’s proposed “contracts and influence” database never came into being.

He made some effort to make federal contractor spending and other data more transparent. For example, his administration created the website ethics.data.gov, a central location to find ethics and influence-related data sets, like lobbying disclosure reports. For this, we said in 2012 that Obama kept his promise to centralize ethics and lobbying information for voters.

And the administration has continued to develop usaspending.gov, a website launched in 2007 to make information about federal government spending public.

However, none of these efforts resulted in a database that puts a particular federal contractor’s dollars spent on lobbying next to the contractor’s grant dollars received.

“While laudable, this is well short of the idea Obama was describing in the campaign and the transition,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.

One small sign of progress has come in the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS), which was not previously accessible to the public and now is. Legislation made it open to the public; records entered since April 15, 2011, are available. The system includes the track record and performance of federal contractors, but it doesn’t contain information on contractor lobbying expenditures or campaign contributions.

“It does not talk about lobbyists. It doesn’t talk about money,” said Scott Amey, with the independent Project on Government Oversight. “We’ve been pushing that they create some kind of system that would combine money and campaigns and federal spending. We’ve always talked about a one-stop shop.”

The closest thing to such a one-stop shop is at the Sunlight Foundation. Their project, InfluenceExplorer.com, pulls information from various government sources to provide “an overview of campaign finance, lobbying, earmark, contractor misconduct and federal spending data.”

Type in the name of a corporation, and you can see which candidates it has donated to and how much it has spent on lobbyists. Likewise, look up the name of contributor and see where his or her money is going.

But Wonderlich says it’s no replacement for the government doing this itself. An outside group has no power to mandate how information is disclosed and how well it stays updated, he said.

Obama made transparency and openness in government a major part of his platform during the campaign. Creating this influence database was one of his specific pledges toward that goal.

We rate this Obama campaign pledge a Promise Broken.

Obama 2008 campaign promise: “Will create a ‘contracts and influence’ database that will disclose how much federal contractors spend on lobbying, and what contracts they are getting and how well they complete them.”