Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Senate to post staff salaries, expenses on Web


In a move of transparency, the Senate is actually going to post staff salaries and expense on the world wide web.

The Senate is planning to follow the House in posting office expenses on the Internet instead of in volumes that must to be purchased or viewed in Capitol office buildings.

The idea, says Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., is to let people see what their lawmakers are doing with their taxpayer-funded office accounts — and hold their feet to the fire for questionable expenses.

“They’ve got it on computer. Just now make it available so everybody in the country can see it,” Coburn said. “So if you see something that doesn’t look right, you can hold us accountable.”

Coburn’s move — which would require office expenses to be posted online — was approved Monday by voice vote as the Senate passed a routine appropriations bill funding Congress’ own budget. The bill would provide senators with office budgets of $3.1 million to $4.9 million next year, depending on the population of their state and other factors.

The House and Senate would have to pass a compromise final bill before the new rule would take effect.

The Senate’s move follows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s instructions last month to Chief Administrative Officer Dan Beard to post House members’ expense reports “online at the earliest date.” Beard has indicated that the expense reports would be posted by Aug. 31 of this year.

The more open disclosures would follow a major scandal involving the British Parliament and revelations of questionable or outright ridiculous expenses, such as $3,000 to replace a leaky pipe under a Conservative member’s tennis court. Parliament’s records had previously been secret.

Would-be watchdogs should probably tamper their expectations of what they’ll find in the congressional reports. For starters, living expenses aren’t covered as they are in Great Britain. Instead, they’ll find salaries of lawmakers’ staff aides, travel costs and itineraries, office supplies, rents for homestate offices and other mundane costs.

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