Coburn amendment would require online expenditures

The Senate may soon require members of the upper chamber to have their office expenditures posted online if an amendment put forward by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) on Monday passes.

The amendment is attached to the Legislative Branch’s appropriations bill, which could see a vote as early as Monday evening.

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Coburn’s move closely follows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) directive to the Office of the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) last month to post the lower chamber’s records online as soon as possible.

Officials initially expected the House’s filings to be available by the end of August. But that date was postponed until the end of October because lawmakers were concerned about how newly revamped House servers would 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 last week.

The committee also announced that it was working with the Office of the CAO to develop a “support plan” for staffers to familiarize themselves with the financial records. The plan is expected to include training for the staff, 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 districts.

For more than a century the House and Senate’s accounting of these purchases has been limited to thick, bound paper volumes made available through the House Legislative Resource Center in the Capitol, the Secretary of the Senate’s office, 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.

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