May 21, 2009

The Most Transparent Administration In History!

Tracking Stimulus Spending May Not Be as Easy as Promised
Shortly after the economic stimulus bill was signed, Vice President Biden was talking up the administration's Web site to track the spending,, when he accidentally directed people to

As slip-ups go, this one had an upside: Unlike the government site, the privately run is actually providing detailed information about how the $787 billion in stimulus money is being spent.

...three months after the bill was signed, offers little beyond news releases, general breakdowns of spending, and acronym-laden spreadsheets and timelines. And congressional Democrats, state officials and advocates of open government worry that the White House cannot come close to clearing the high bar it set.

What is immediately notable to me is that the ORG site is listing specific projects, where the GOV site is listing only general categories of grants allocation. This is an obvious artifact of the whole grants process. The idea that an existing program can take a big chunk of unexpected money and report exactly what (previously unforseen/unfunded) projects or specific expenditures can be and are applied for, evaluated, obligated and made inside of a few months is naive at best. The sub-grant process, even one as rushed as this one, still takes time, and often requires that those sub-grant projects move upward through a labyrinth of local, state, and federal approvals before any actual contracts can be issued or funds obligated.

It seems to me that ORG and GOV are nibbling at opposite ends of the same beast. ORG is identifying contracts as issued, and thus is listing mostly "shovel-ready" spending that was already on the books and authorized without funding, and thus capable of VERY quick movement (for government) whereas GOV is listing the area allocations, many of which may take additional weeks or months to trickle up into reporting on specific sub-grant projects and allocations.

From personal knowledge I can add that there are ARRA grants fundings out there that are not (yet) listed on either site. That hardly inspires confidence--these are dedicated general program allocations that are part of ARRA that SHOULD appear on the GOV site, at least. It's not as if they vanished from the published bill, and one would think the government capable of reading the bill. Well, now that it's been passed, anyway.

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