House leaders returned on Saturday without budging on their proposed budget conforming bill that will exempt Cabinet agencies from the state transparency web site managed by Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater. It immediately raised questions about whether there is another agenda at work.
Atwater's office has already uploaded 38,000 contracts for the public to view, including hundreds from each of the Cabinet agencies, on his transparency website, known as the Florida Accountability Contract Tracking System. He told the Herald/Times Saturday "there have been no complaints. They are all pleasantly participating. I'm not sure why we take a step backwards."
Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, chairman of the House Government Operations and Appropriations Subcommitee, said Friday that he wanted to only upload data from the governor's office to the site as a first step.
Atwater, however, said he considers it "a step backwards" since the Cabinet agencies are already participating. Under the House plan, all contracts handled by the Department of Financial Services, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the Attorney General and the judicial branch would be exempt from disclosure.
The General Government conference committee met again at 5 p.m. and could not resolve the issue. The Senate has so far decided to hold firm on its position and allow Atwater, a former Senate president, his request to allow all contracts to be posted online for public review, or concede to the House.
Some have speculated that the reason the House does not want to expose all the contracting data on a public website is because it is also hoping to shield from view details relating to the health insurance reforms they hope to put in Atwater's office.
Atwater said he is committed to posting every contract to his web site. "As long as I'm in this office, any contract that we negotiate will be there,'' he said.