Online posting of House expenditures delayed

The House’s online posting of lawmakers' expenditures has been delayed because members and officials fear the newly available information could overload House communication systems and catch staff unprepared.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) directed the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) last month to post the annual accountings of member, committee, and officer expenditures online as soon as possible.

Officials initially expected the filings to be available by the end of August. But that date has been postponed until the end of October because lawmakers are concerned about how newly revamped House servers will respond to the increased traffic the online statements are expected to draw, according to a statement released by the House Administration Committee's Democratic office on Thursday.

“In consultation with the Office of the CAO, we have identified several security and support issues which must be resolved before the [statement of disbursements] can be uploaded to the appropriate House website,” the statement reads.

“Although House servers were recently upgraded to handle massive, sudden influxes of e-mail and Web hits, this newly installed technology needs to be properly tested in preparation for what is expected to be an enormous online interest in the electronic [statement of disbursements].”

Lawmakers on the committee also voiced their concern that staff in members’ offices may not be fully versed in the details of the statements to help constituents who request their assistance.

“The online publication of the [statement of disbursements] may generate interest that could increase the number of e-mails and phone calls to members’ offices,” reads the committee statement. “We want to ensure that all offices are fully trained in explaining the SOD document.”

The House Administration Committee announced that it was working with the Office of the CAO to develop a “support plan” for staffers. The plan is expected to include training to familiarize staff with the statements as well as a “customer service”-style support network that would field questions staff may not be able to answer themselves.

Members receive between $1.3 million and $4.5 million for their annual office allowances, which they can spend on everything from BlackBerrys to plane tickets back to their district.

For more than a century the House’s accounting of these purchases has been limited to thick, bound paper volumes made available through the House Legislative Resource Center in the Capitol or the Government Printing Office.

Pelosi said the limited availability of the bound records does not meet the public’s need for transparency.

“[The printed] publishing [of the] material does not allow all interested parties to review the information contained in the reports,” she wrote in her letter last month.

The website is expected to be free to the public and the statements will be available in PDF format. The site’s address has not yet been established.