The much anticipated site Recovery.gov has just been launched. It has been advertised by the administration as the place where stimulus spending will be completely disclosed to the public. As President Obama says in an introductory video on the home page, “once the money starts to go out to build new roads, modernize schools, and create new jobs, you’ll be able to see how, when and where it is spent” on the web site.
Reading the transparency and accountability portion of the stimulus bill today, however, I’m left with a few questions:
- The House bill called for the creation of a site to be called Recovery.gov, but that was stripped out from the final legislation. Instead, the Act calls for the independent Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to create a website to house stimulus-related disclosures. Is the newly launched Recovery.gov that website? If so, is it indeed under the control of the independent Board? Right now the site’s content is certainly not independent of the president. If Recovery.gov is not the same thing as the legislatively created Board website, then won’t the launch of Recovery.gov serve to confuse citizens?
- I don’t see any mandate in the legislation for deep reporting of how stimulus funding is spent. The Act requires fund recipients to report on a quarterly basis to the agencies from which they received funds (HUD, DoT, DoE, etc.) how they have spent the funds. Thirty days after receiving these reports, the Act requires agencies to publish not necessarily the recipient reports themselves, but “the information submitted in reports” publicly available on “a website.” That is, not necessarily on Recovery.gov or the board website (if they are separate sites). Can we be assured that the full text of all recipient reports will be published? And can we be assured that they won’t be scattered across dozens of sites, but placed in a central and easy to access place?
- Finally, how deep will the data go? The Board website mandated in the Act only requires the publication of “detailed information on Federal Government contracts and grants that expend covered funds” in the same fashion that USASpending.gov now employs. (Emphasis added.) The problem is that a federal grant could be $10 million to Miami from DoT for roads, and that’s it. There is no requirement that the city then publish its contractors and subcontractors on the Board site. This is a big gap; if the only that must be disclosed on the Board site is the contract or grant award, then the trail will run cold very quickly. That said, there is a requirement for contractor and subcontractor reporting, but it comes in the recipient report mandate I explained in question 2, and like I said, there is no guarantee that we will get the full report data, nor that it will be centrally housed. Can we get that assurance?
As Recovery.gov and any other official stimulus accountability sites come on line, StimulusWatch.org and other will be looking to make the data useful to citizens. We can only do this, however, if the administration keeps its pledge to be transparent. Mr. President, just give us the data.