By Dan Froomkin
12:45 PM ET, 02/18/2009
In his speech yesterday before signing the huge stimulus bill, President Obama said he hopes the Internet will help keep everyone honest.
"With a recovery package of this size comes a responsibility to assure every taxpayer that we are being careful with the money they work so hard to earn. And that's why I'm assigning a team of managers to ensure that the precious dollars we've invested are being spent wisely and well.... And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results. And that's why we've created Recovery.gov -- a web site so that every American can go online and see how this money is being spent and what kind of job is being created, where those jobs are being created."
So how's it looking so far?
Chloe Albanesius writes for PCMag.com: "The site currently includes a chart that maps out how the funds are being allocated: $288 billion in tax relief, $111 billion in infrastructure and science, and $59 billion for health care, among other things.
"Recovery.gov also has a timeline of expected milestones, and a copy of the stimulus plan....
"The site will be run by an oversight board of inspectors general called the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Until that board is operational, President Obama has coordinated a team from across federal agencies to track the money and report findings on the site.
"Developers cannot currently pull the data for the creation of mashups and gadgets, but 'we plan to make that data available in exportable form,' the site said."
Philip Elliott writes for the Associated Press: "President Barack Obama promised taxpayers they could track each of the billions and billions of dollars in spending Congress has approved to stimulate the nation's flailing economy and save its banks. It's a promise that's going to be difficult, if not impossible, to keep...
"Obama aides say they will post such information as they can, but they acknowledge it's not going to be announcing things at a micro level."
Nancy Scola blogs for TechPresident.com about what's missing: "Data. Data. Data. Of course, with the act three hours old, there just isn't much yet. That said, whether Recovery.gov will give open-government advocates the raw data that they're hungering for is still an open question....
"Transparency advocates have been concerned that the public will get access to only 10,000-feet-up federal agency accounting -- not drilled-down data on, say, state-level projects."
Julian Sanchez blogs for Arstechnica.com: "The real test of the site's efficacy, of course, will come as actual data about funded projects begins to pour in. And while it's easy to celebrate an effort to provide greater political transparency, it may also be worth recalling the fate of the congressional franking privilege: meant to enable legislators to keep their constituents informed about matters of public concern, it's become primarily a means of mailing out free, self-congratulatory press releases. Given that the current incarnation of the site is arguably an ad for an 'unprecedented effort to jumpstart our economy, create or save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st century,' the best recipe for accountability may be to ignore the site itself and wait to see what third-party analysts make of that exportable data."
Sanchez also notes: "There are already a slew of unofficial online efforts to monitor both the stimulus legislation and its progeny — those 'shovel-ready' projects to be funded by grants and loans from an alphabet soup of federal agencies."
See, for instance, Stimuluswatch.org, a wiki-based Web site that helps people find, discuss and rate various projects.
Dan Munz writes for Government Executive's Fedblog that Recovery.gov would benefit from "wiki functionality that lets folks on the ground add their own knowledge about how projects are going....$787 billion is a lot of money, and enlisting citizens in keeping track of it all would be a good first step in bridging the gap from merely transparent government to actual participatory government."