...it's transformational. I think that the government is going to do business like this in the future. This is probably the biggest experiment going on right now, and they'll take the good and build on it and we will probably learn a lot of lessons as we go along [Earl Devaney, quoted by Chad Vander Veen, "Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Federal Recovery Board, Talks About Building and Running Recovery.gov," Government Technology, 2010.06.15].
But wasn't there some ruckus last fall about recovery money being spent in non-existent Congressional districts? Yes... and that ruckus wouldn't have happened without the transparency of Recovery.org:
...the downside to transparency is often embarrassment. When we went live [with stimulus spending data] in October, there was a lot of outcry about the data. Some of the data was bad. There are 99 data elements that the recipients [of stimulus funds] had to send in to FederalReporting.gov and get right. One of the big snafus was that turns out not many of the recipients knew what congressional district they live in. So they just put in two numbers, they didn't care if they were the right numbers because the system allowed them to move on to the next question. Well, when we had a database full of incorrect congressional districts, that didn't make Congress very happy. There's a technical fix to that; we tied the ZIP codes to the congressional district, and if the ZIP code entered by the user doesn't match the congressional district, the user is told there is a problem. That corrected that problem in the next reporting period, so that data got a lot better [Devaney in Vander Veen, 2010].
Devaney sees himself and a couple dozen other inspectors general now backed up by thousands and thousands of reporters, bloggers, and regular citizens searching Recovery.gov for information on local projects and eager to print critical news stories or hit the "report fraud" button if they see something questionable. He says the stimulus money has as much potential for waste and abuse as past government spending programs. The difference is that it's a lot easier for us to find out about it, alert the overseeing agencies, and stanch that waste and abuse.
All thanks to a website and citizen participation... and an Administration that understands the value of both.