On Sept. 28, President Bush signed into law the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006. Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Democratic Sens. Thomas Carper of Delaware and Barack Obama of Illinois, the legislation has important implications for grant-seekers.

Aiming to make federal funding more transparent, the new law will “create a web site that will list the federal government’s grants and contracts, accessible by every citizen in the country.” Besides making the federal government more accountable to taxpayers, this online funding database is likely to be a significant resource for schools.

According to a White House press release, the federal government issues more than $400 billion in grants and more than $300 billion in contracts to corporations, associations, and state and local governments each year. Now, anyone with access to a computer and the internet will be able to go online and see any company, association, state, or municipality that has received a federal grant or contract.

Users will be able to search this new web site in a number of ways, including by federal department, program category, and name of the grant recipient. In addition, they will find information about the purpose of the funding, the amount of money provided, and the agency providing the funding.

This information about federal grants and contracts is already available; however, it cannot be found in one single location, and most individuals who are not familiar with grantsmanship probably would have difficulty finding it. Once the new web site is up and running, however, it should benefit anyone looking for federal government funding–and should help centralize the search for available programs.

It’s important to note that the new web site will list only those grants and contracts worth at least $25,000. Any grants of $25,000 or more that must remain classified for security reasons will not be listed on the site.

How will this new resource benefit grant seekers? It should enable you to look up a federal program quickly and see who received prior awards and the amount of funding that each grantee received. This will enable you to contact previous winners and discuss the application process. It also will give you a “ballpark” figure for budgeting purposes, as long as your proposed project is of the same depth and scope as those of prior grant winners. In addition, the new database will enable legislators and stakeholders to see quickly how their school districts are faring in terms of receiving federal funds.

When he signed the bill into law, President Bush made it a point to stress that this new web site–the address of which has yet to be announced–will have a direct impact on earmarks, which no longer will be “hidden deep within the pages of a federal budget bill.” Under a new rule change made by the House of Representatives, sponsors of projects now will be disclosed before bills come to a vote. Bush said this change will “shine the light on earmarks.”

If this happens, the new law also could help level the playing field for those districts that have not been successful at securing earmarks. If the public is better educated about earmarks, the process might be done more wisely and with more restraint–though only time will tell.