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Business - Written by on Friday, February 20, 2009 13:50 - 1 Comment

Recovery.gov: Off to a slow start

Although recovery.gov was launched on the same day Obama signed the stimulus bill, I’ve been holding back on posting until there was a bit more substance to report on. There’s still no meat unfortunately (the graphic below is about as detailed as the information currently gets), but I’ll provide my 2 cents anyways.


Obama has promised that the spending authorized by the stimulus bill will be subject to unprecedented transparency and accountability. Although there is little substance yet, recovery.gov — the centerpiece of the transparency strategy — promises to be a rich source of detailed charts, maps and graphics that display where the money is being spent (including which districts and which federal contractors), how it is being spent (the specific projects being funded and their performance targets), and to what effect (including the ability to track individual project developments and assess any measurable improvements in economic performance using broad economic indicators). For a partial example of what this might look like see OMBWatch’s fedspending.org and the government’s own USAspending.gov.

The first two aspects of the proposed transparency strategy (detailing where and how money is being spent) are already routine practice. Whether they can provide that info in a timely and useful manner is another matter. As Ellen Miller at the Sunlight Foundation rightly points out:

Recovery.gov must make the raw data available and it must be housed in system so that data can flow in and out easily. There should be open programming interfaces that allow developers to share and analyze data.

We also need details such as:

What data is getting collected and how often? Who has to report? How often will the data be updated and how often will it made available to the public? What’s the database going to look like what’s the relationship to USASpending.gov? What kinds of content will Recovery.gov produce around the data? (Will there be regular emails when new information is available, blogging with analysis, etc.)?

In my view, the third element (the ability to track projects in real-time and to evaluate their impacts) holds both the greatest promise and also the greatest challenge. Releasing official project-level data and providing metrics and tools for analysis (e.g, jobs created per dollar spent) would be a good first step. Open-sourcing this process as much as possible would be even better.

One opportunity is to gather more local intelligence about which projects are positively impacting citizens and the economy and which ones are wasting money. Naturally, these assessments would be more subjective, but not necessarily less reliable than the official data, which we know can be manipulated to hide any signs of poor performance.

I would expect see considerable resistance to this idea all the way down the spending chain, from the federal agencies that distribute the funds to the state and local agencies that spend it to the contractors that ultimately perform the work. Which is likely why we won’t see this kind of capability hosted on recovery.gov, but rather on a third party site like stimuluswatch.org (see my next post).

1 Comment

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Converge magazine
Feb 23, 2009 17:42

There definitely needs to be some way to track how, where and when the money is being spent. Citizens deserve to see where this money is creating programs, jobs, etc. instead of wondering if it will actually ever reach them.

For example, in the article Is the Stimulus’ Impact Lacking at Local Level?, educators and school administrators aren’t sure they’ll see enough money to help them.

At least with the ability to view other school districts and the projects happening there, they can compare this data to their district and begin to make plans for the money.

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