The U.S. Senate took a step toward shedding light on how Washington spends money Thursday, voting unanimously for Sen. Mark Warner’s two-year effort to set up a simple way for people to see how federal agencies spend money.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act that Warner and Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, sponsored makes federal agencies standardize the way they report spending and disclose all of it on a common, easy-to-search website. The bill sets a deadline of three years from now for that to start.

The idea is to let the public drill down to specific appropriations, programs and activities and even to who’s getting grants for what.

“Nobody likes paying tax, but what we want when we pay taxes is to know the money is spent properly,” Warner said.

He thinks the information will “create an army of citizen watchdogs.”

Warner has long been troubled by the large number of different accounting systems the federal government uses — more than 200 just in the Defense Department.

He sees the new digital accountability act as a first step toward what he calls the gold standard of a single government-wide financial reporting system.

And, he said, his years in business, as well as his term as governor, show the benefits.

“If you can’t follow the money, you can’t do your job,” he said.

In Virginia, he said, one benefit from his efforts to push transparency was the serious discussion in 2004 about the ever-fraught issue of taxes and state government spending. The result was a major tax reform that won fairly broad bipartisan support.

He’s hoping that more transparency and accountability about how Washington spends money will finally spark some serious Capitol Hill work on dealing with the federal deficit.

Passing the act “is a huge step toward ensuring the public can go online to track accurate, timely and complete information about federal spending,” said John Wonderlich, the Sunlight Foundation’s policy director.

More than two dozen groups, including Americans for Tax Reform, the Association of Research Libraries, the Center for Responsive Politics and the Government Accountability Project supported the measure.