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A First Look at the New

BY Nancy Scola | Tuesday, March 31 2009 | U.S. Department of the Treasury, the Treasury Department's clearinghouse for the Obama Administration's financial recovery efforts, went live just a few minutes ago. We have an early first look. The snapshot: the site provides a polished but accessible citizen-friendly interface for making sense of the complexities of executive branch efforts to unfreeze the credit market -- while at the same time upgrading the data streams that advocates use to watchdog aspects of the recovery process. Here's a quick first look at what's inside.

For the Concerned American: A graceful mapping displays which economic institutions are participating in the five-and-a-half-month-old Capital Purchase Program, the part of TARP where Treasury purchases bank securities in an attempt to increase lending. One click, and up pops a quick take of how your local institutions are engaged in the $250 billion program. Banks who have sold equity stakes to the federal government are displayed by name, by date of sale, and by amount of purchase. And a "Decoder" section helps explain the once obscure financial terms now swirling all around us these days. Now you'll know your ABS from your EESA.

For the Engaged Citizen: While the search interface for bank contracts is rather clunky, a simple list is an easy way in to the contracting language between Uncle Sam and the banks in question. LIBOR rate charts provide a bit more insight into the economic indicators of the current crisis. And a Google Map provided by Treasury is a useful base on which anyone can build layered visualizations.

For Advocates and Watchdogs: Here's where the major upgrade comes in. Watchdog projects like Subsidyscope out of the Pew Charitable Trust had been reduced to scraping Treasury's PDF tranche reports to power their work. Now the department has turned on the spigot on a handy structured XML feed of that information. There's much that Treasury won't do that advocates might want (like overlaying a bank's stock price on how much the federal government poured in). But this new feed should free them them to focus on creating timely and useful ways of making use of the data.

All in all, the site seems to be a nice first step, and one that recoginizes that to truly serve citizens it will have to work on a handful of different levels.