Ethics.Data.gov brings records and data from across the federal government to one central location, making it easier for citizens to hold public officials accountable.
The idea that government is more accountable when it is transparent is a principle that President Obama has worked hard to make a reality in his administration. That’s why the President pledged “to create a centralized Internet database of lobbying reports, ethics records, and campaign finance filings in a searchable, sortable, and downloadable format. While all this information has previously been available elsewhere, it’s never before been aggregated in a centralized location.” It’s one place where anyone can come and search through the records of seven different datasets:
- White House Visitor Records
- Office of Government Ethics Travel Reports
- Lobbying Disclosure Act Data
- Department of Justice Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) Data
- Federal Election Commission Individual Contribution Reports
- Federal Election Commission Candidate Reports
- Federal Election Commission Committee Reports
Facing heightened pressure from the White House and Congressional Democrats, Federal Housing Finance Agency Acting Director Edward DeMarco doubled down last week on his opposition to allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the agencies he regulates, to reduce the principal on underwater mortgages. Is DeMarco bypassing an effective tool that would not only help home owners get out from under crushing debt but also fuel the embryonic housing recovery?
A moral hazard: Reducing the principal on underwater mortgages is one of the more controversial policy proposals to combat the housing crisis. In fact, it’s considered by some to be a moral hazard. On one hand, with millions of home owners still underwater, principal reduction can help prevent even more foreclosures. On the other hand, forcing banks and the GSEs to reduce principal might encourage home owners able to make their monthly payments to purposefully default in order to qualify for a principal reduction. In addition, some believe that helping folks who may have overextended themselves on their mortgage isn’t the best solution.
A measured approach: Policymakers should encourage principal reductions, but the decision on when to use it is best left to the lender and borrower. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Shaun Donovan, points out that banks already allow principal reduction on loans. Borrowers who have their principal reduced are more likely to keep making their monthly payments. To help spur a change in FHFA’s policy, the Obama administration upped the financial incentives for administering principal reductions, which are already part of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Rate reductions and longer loan terms, are better than principal reduction. FHFA’s role is to minimize American taxpayers’ losses since the government had to bail out Fannie and Freddie in 2008. Reducing the principal on a mortgage makes more economic sense than allowing the home to be foreclosed on. Foreclosures hurt everyone: the lender, the owner, and even neighbors who live near vacated properties. Principal reductions is an important option for home owners and lenders trying to stave off a foreclosure.(Houselogic 3/7/12)