Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Could Crowdsourcing Help Control the Stimulus?

By Ed O'Keefe

As the federal government starts doling out billions of dollars from the economic recovery package, there's growing concern that officials will not be able to account for every project and every dollar spent. Should the government enlist everyday Americans with an Internet connection to help? Jerry Brito thinks so.

Brito is a senior research fellow at George Mason University's Mercatus Center and the founder and co-creator of, a Web site that tracks "shovel-ready" projects that may eventually receive stimulus funding.

The site lives on crowdsourcing, or outsourcing a task to a large undefined community that takes relies on Web technologies and access to public data to perform its function. Brito spends most of his time studying and writing about transparency and accountability and started paying close attention last fall as lawmakers and the incoming Obama administration began debating the merits of an economic stimulus package.

Skeptics suggested that cities and states lacked the "shovel-ready" projects needed for a wide-scale stimulus. The U.S. Conference of Mayors quickly compiled a wish list from big city mayors, who had plenty of projects that lacked the necessary funding. Brito's site lists every project on the mayors' lists by location, keyword or the type of project. Users can vote on the merits of each proposed project and help write a description for each one. StimulusWatch 2.0 will track each project that receives stimulus funding and allow users to post updates on their progress, Brito said.

Tomorrow Brito testifies at a House Oversight and Government Reform hearing on how state and federal auditors plan to track stimulus funds. He will appear with Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board and state and local auditors.

“You don’t have to hire an army of auditors, because it’s impossible for them to follow every single dollar and every single transaction," Brito said in an interview. "However you can augment their work with citizens, who can keep tabs on things that go on in their neighborhood.”

To prove his point and the brilliance of crowdsourcing, Brito posted a draft of his Congressional testimony online and asked users to help him craft his opening statement for the committee. It went through several drafts before he submitted it Tuesday afternoon and he hopes future Congressional committee witnesses consider doing something similar.

“Here’s the beauty of this moment in time for transparency: It’s always advocated by folks out of power, because they always want to see what the folks in power are doing," Brito said. The Obama administration campaigned on transparency, he said, "so they’re committed to it and they’re doing an excellent job so far. And the minority party right now is demanding transparency, so you have both sides committed to transparency, for their own reasons."

“I don’t really care what their reasons are; I really want it," he said later.

The Eye is on Twitter! | Track Obama Nominees on Head Count

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 18, 2009; 4:35 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: GovSpeak: Gobbled Up in Gobbledygook
Next: Earl Devaney's Recommended Reading


I think this move toward greater transparency and participation is truly exciting. Thank you for profiling this. Part of what is exciting to me about this is the merger of local attention (folks in cities and towns across the country weighing in on the Stimulus projects) with impact on the National budget.

You might also look to what's happening in New York State, where the Senate office has opened up the state's budget deficit to advice from the public - another great example of opening up government processes to take advantage of the wisdom of our citizenry, not to mention encouraging greater civic participation. Given the worries about the economy these days, encouraging citizens to take a more active role in how our tax dollars are spent seems like an empowering and hopeful process.

Anyway, great piece. I hope you keep tracking this movement toward crowd-sourcing government processes. (ps - I found this article by clicking the link on your twitter feed!)

Posted by: emjacobi | March 18, 2009 5:12 PM | Report abuse

Yay! THis is the type of citizen-activism/whistle-blowing/watch-dogging we need.

Posted by: luckyseven323 | March 19, 2009 12:35 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company