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Stimulus Oversight Chief Wants Your Ideas

By Ed O'Keefe

A vocal cross-section of technology experts, academics, good government groups and federal employees weighed in this week on the future of Recovery.gov, the Obama administration’s Web site that officials promise will eventually track every single dollar of the federal stimulus.

Earl Devaney
Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Chairman Earl Devaney. (Photo by Reuters)

Since the site’s late February launch, observers have raised concerns about its design, the technologies used and whether it will ever serve its promised purpose. At stake is the government’s accounting of the $787 billion stimulus package and the administration’s first big experiment in adapting technologies it successfully used during the 2008 last year’s presidential campaign to the task of government oversight.

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RAT), in partnership with the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA) on Monday launched "The National Dialogue," an online forum that continues through May 3.

Users of the site can post an idea, comment on others and then vote on their preferred suggestions.The forum received more than 300,000 visits in its first seven hours and more than 1.5 million by the end of Tuesday night, according to Earl Devaney, chairman of the RAT Board, who serves as the site’s defacto managing editor.

Devaney has $84 million at his disposal and will soon finish hiring a staff of 30 to oversee the site and coordinate oversight efforts with federal inspectors general and state auditors.

The Web site must be able to collect and display spending information on each stimulus-funded project by mid-October. Devaney’s team already has several critics: High-tech firms and good government groups want the ability to download and analyze spending figures and redistribute them across third-party sites. Some Web designers dislike the site’s current design. Lawmakers worry that Devaney has not acted quickly enough to report on funds already distributed. Still others say this week’s forum has been dominated by technology companies looking for an easy way to pitch their products to government officials.

In response, Devaney pleas for patience and suggests skeptics grade the site’s progress on a monthly basis. The board has considered several design models, including a display that mirrors traditional newspaper Web sites, he said.

President Obama appointed Devaney chairman of the RAT Board in late February, a move widely praised by lawmakers and members of the federal oversight community because of thanks to Devaney’s reputation for being highly independent. as an independent operator. Some call him "the Bob Vila of government," a repair-man-for-hire assigned to address several difficult situations over the course of his 40 year federal career as a Secret Service agent, director of criminal enforcement at the Environmental Protection Agency and Interior Department inspector general.

It’s a label he embraces, he says, because "I actually don’t get excited unless something is broken."

"While I may not have the technical expertise, I’m perfectly capable I think of finding the best people in the country and pulling them together," he said today during his first published interview since taking the job.

His staff has kept close watch on this week’s forum and already has reached out to some users for more information. "We have to make this site robust enough to accept this huge tidal wave of data that’s going to come rushing in here in October. That’s the challenge, that’s what keeps me up at night," he said.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 29, 2009; 7:00 PM ET
Categories:  Oversight  
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Next: Eye Opener: Earl Devaney Speaks Out

Comments

Heres one,

Give us our money back.

Posted by: AtlasShrugged1 | April 29, 2009 8:36 PM | Report abuse

The Federal Reserve enjoys a monopoly over the flow of our money and credit but has never been completely transparent and accountable to Congress. Since its establishment in 1913 our dollar has lost more than 95 percent of its purchasing power.
In addition to more than $11 trillion national debt (over $36,000 per citizen), Congress, the Treasury, and the Federal Reserve have put us on the hook for almost $10 trillion in bailouts and loans. Yet, the Fed refuses to tell Congress which financial institutions have received these funds.
U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas introduced HR 1207, which would deliver answers to the American people about how our money is being used. HR 1207, which is currently in the House Financial Services Committee, received the support of over 100 other representatives since its introduction and will amend section 714 of Title 31 of the U.S. Code to remove the restrictions on how the Government Accountability Office can audit the Federal Reserve.

Posted by: AtlasShrugged1 | April 29, 2009 8:43 PM | Report abuse

I would strongly suggest the Obama Administration look into a stimulus partnership with Peace Corps. The aim would be to help American participate in international grassroots development. The budgetary saving could be massive - with people working in developing countries not having the time to resort to violence that has led to terrorism!

I'd be happy to take you to places in the beautiful Swat Valley of Pakistan where
people need to be employed....
Use some of the stimulus money to help Americans understanding the positive sides of globalization. Set up a 'CCC-type' training program based in the US national parks. Provide the 'students' with a 50% work component that exposes them to the wonders of America's national parks and how the infrastructure is set up. The other 50% of the training component could be linked to tourism development using Peace Corps Volunteers, USAID and the State Department as facilitators in developing countries. Set up hiking trails. Set up roads and lodging facilities in the developing countries using the models of American national parks. Put people to work both here and abroad. Solid bang for our bucks...

Posted by: pest07 | April 30, 2009 7:17 PM | Report abuse

The current Dialogue is a great start, and it's great to hear that Devaney's staff is reaching out to some participants with more questions - making it more of a Dialogue in practice. I've followed some of the threads - messages from one participant to another about a particular idea- and am impressed by the quality of discussion.

However, the Board could take some simple steps to create a stronger, ongoing community by (a) making their process of reviewing ideas transparent (rather than offline and out of sight), (b) clarifying what people who have offered ideas can expect from the Board in the way of review and response, and (c) building some continuity with the Dialogues to come.

In many ways, Digg is a misleading model for this effort. More at http://citizentools.netalyst.com/2009/realize-that-the-recoverygov-it-national-dialogue-is-not-digg-and-take-it-to-the-next-level

Posted by: citizentools | May 3, 2009 1:13 PM | Report abuse

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