NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


July 19, 2006

As Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) introduces legislation to cut wasteful government spending by creating a comprehensive database that tracks all federal payments, a new Cato bulletin looks at online databases that are already available to find out which individuals, businesses and groups receive federal taxpayer dollars.

Looking at one existing database, the Federal Assistance Award Data System (FAADS), Cato found several instances of questionable spending in California:

  • A federal program for firms that supposedly don't qualify for private loans provided $1.5 million to a liquor store in Los Angeles, $1.4 million to a car wash in Anaheim, and $1.1 million to a pizza shop in Hayward.
  • About 3,600 payments are listed for nonprofit groups, including the Wine Institute ($1.5 million), the San Francisco Symphony ($50,000), the California Strawberry Commission ($227,000) and the International Museum of Women ($298,000).
  • An individual, George Peale of Orange County, received $40,000 for a project titled "References to Spanish Baroque Theatre in the Royal Palace Archives."

Another database, the Federal Audit Clearinghouse (FAC), shows:

  • Palm Beach County received $109 million in grants in 2004 from 53 federal programs including "citizen corps," "rural business," "nutrition services," "job access reverse commute," "bulletproof vest partnership," and "outdoor recreation."
  • The Beverly Hills school district received $2.7 million in grants from 21 federal programs in 2005.
  • The American Association of Retired Persons Foundation received $82 million from five programs in 2004.
  • Reports for the Teamsters, American Federation of Teachers and other unions reveal millions of dollars in federal subsidies.

A Coburn-style database would be a big step forward for open and transparent government, says Cato. The more information people have, the better they can assess the sound bites of politicians.  The real-world results of programs are often very different from the sentimental hopes of policymakers.

Source: Chris Edwards, "Empowering Citizens to Monitor Federal Spending," Cato Tax and Budget Bulletin, July 2006

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