Today, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn filed the Federal Spending and Taxpayer Accessibility Act of 2008, which would create an online earmark tracking system, provide taxpayer record statements, and add more detailed agency expenditure information to the existing website.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has recommended that expenditures at all levels of government be more readily available to the general public. Widespread Internet access and advances in information retrieval technology have made this a low-cost proposition.

Government budgets tend to be massive and confusing documents that often yield little information, combining several programs into a single line item or dividing spending on programs across multiple agencies. As a result, it is difficult to get an accurate picture on government spending and the use of taxpayer dollars.

Texas has demonstrated both the possibilities and benefits from making government spending more transparent. Last year, the Texas Legislature passed HB 3430, which created an online database of state agency expenditures. Comptroller Susan Combs went live with the “Where the Money Goes” website last fall, and then used that database to conduct a complete examination of her office’s processes. Among the $2.3 million in savings her office has realized:

* $73,000 from combining multiple printer toner contracts;* $250,000 from not printing a duplicate study conducted by another agency;* $130,000 from posting publications online rather than printing and mailing;* $457,319 from eliminating information technology contracts;* $100,000 from eliminating microfilm no longer needed; and* $14,600 from disconnecting pagers.

Until last fall, Texas relied on its governor and 181 state legislators to be the watchdog against wasteful spending. But thanks to the “Where the Money Goes” website that Combs has created, those watchdogs just got 23 million potential reinforcements. It’s great that Sen. Cornyn wants to enlist that kind of help for our U.S. Congress.

– Talmadge Heflin