Both as candidate and President, Barack Obama promised to usher in a new era of government transparency driven primarily by technology afforded by the World Wide Web. To this end, the Federal government has rolled out Recovery.gov, which will enable citizens to monitor the $787 billion in economic stimulus money authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). The idea is that by October 2009, citizens will be able use Recovery.gov to track how stimulus money is being distributed—even down to state and local levels. This webinar examined Recovery.gov and other Web-based tools designed to promote government transparency, assessed the possible upsides and downsides of this program, and described the technology IBM is using to carry out this initiative.
The webinar was divided into two parts. The first part, fielded by Ms. Weier, provided background on Obama’s commitment to transparency in government; examined Recovery.gov; delved into some of the technological and cultural obstacles that may be encountered by this effort; and offered insights into the advantages and drawbacks of the government’s move toward transparency.
Ms. Weier described Recovery.gov as “the government’s most modern and complex attempt at transparency ever...” She addressed the guidelines stimulus fund recipients would be required to use when reporting use of funds, giving as an example $13.2 billion that will be administered by the Department of Housing and Urban Development. If HUD makes a $2 million block grant to New York City, for example, the city must then report to HUD such details as who received the grant, use of funds, and the number of jobs created.
The upshot to this is that Recovery.gov will require the input of enormous amounts of data from a wide variety of organizations and government agencies. Citizens will then be able to access this data on the Web site. If all goes according to plan, Ms. Weier said “Recovery.gov would help move government into the Web 2.0 world by getting federal, state and local governments using modern Web protocols and processes.”
Ms. Weier went on to describe some potential roadblocks to this push for transparency, including stale or useless data being uploaded into Recovery.gov and resistance by states to requests for information by the federal government. She also expressed reservations as to whether a lumbering bureaucracy such as the federal government is capable of creating mechanisms to deal with the massive amount of information required for this initiative in the proposed timeframe.
Ms. Weier concluded by offering a summation of the upside and downside to Recovery.gov. She said that it remains to be seen whether Recovery.gov lives up to its potential or becomes just “an impressive front end to flat spreadsheets.” This initiative, however, “provides a...