This source said that under the old system, the description of any item was up to the whimsy of an accounting staffer entering the information into the database. Now the expenditures are filed into a series of fixed accounting codes, creating more standardized reporting.
According to this staffer, An accountant would say, I can actually see some trends here. I can compare these accounts in a quantitative way, which is more important than which laundromat you used ... or which store you chose to buy doughnuts at for some Member meeting.
The leadership staffer said that while reporters may want to pick out individual expenditures to poke fun at Members, the reports are intended like any accounting system to allow broad comparisons of spending trends among offices.
But Sunlight Foundation editorial director Bill Allison said in an e-mail, Releasing incomplete office expense information online demonstrates the Houses one step forward, two steps back approach to transparency. One would think that members who dispose of trillions of dollars in taxpayer money would be up front about how theyre managing their office budgets. If members were worried how flat screen TV purchases and the like would look to their constituents during tough economic times, hiding the information serves only to raise questions about the entire House.
Jock Friedly, president of LegiStorm, a Web site that tracks Congressional finances, said the details of these expenditures are critical in determining what is or is not a legitimate office expense. Maybe there is a legitimate explanation for the purchase of a flat-screen TV or the trip to Florida ... but without that information, you cant even ask the question, Friedly said.