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Bills Propose Online Earmark Database

House and Senate bills would require a searchable Web site detailing all Congressional earmark requests, by legislator.

Following up on a request made by President Obama in his State of the Union address in February, both houses of Congress Tuesday introduced bipartisan bills that would create an online database of all Congressional earmark requests.

The House of Representatives and Senate bills, both titled the Earmark Transparency Act, would require Congressional administrators to launch, within six months of passage, a searchable Web site detailing all earmark requests by each legislator, including requested amounts of funding, associated bills for each request, and parties who had urged the requests' inclusion.

"The American people should not have to obtain search warrants to understand how Congress is spending their money," Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the Senate bill's co-sponsors, said in a statement.

The bill joins more than 30 other earmark reform bills that have been introduced since the beginning of 2009, according to a list compiled by the Sunlight Foundation, a government transparency group. A few of those bills included similar measures, but none had the bipartisan and bicameral backing that these two have. In addition, President Obama urged creation of such a database and Web site in this year's State of the Union address.

The database would have to include more than a dozen data points for each earmark request. In addition to amounts, associated legislator, and requesting party, the database would include information about the funding's beneficiaries (including whether they are governmental, for-profit, or non-profit entities), whether the earmark funds a continuing project, and a justification explaining the earmark's benefits.

Open government advocates applauded the bills' introduction, noting that earmarks are today handled in such a way that makes them opaque at best. "Currently, information on earmarks is scattered across more than 559 Web sites, making it virtually impossible to follow the money," Ellen Miller, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, said in a statement.

Sens. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Russ Feingold, D-Wisc., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Kristen Gillibrand, D-N.Y., introduced the Senate version of the bill, while Reps. Bill Cassidy, R-La. and Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced the bill in the House of Representatives.

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