Stimulus Oversight Chief Wants Your Ideas
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.
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.
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