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More Evidence of Obama as Crowdsourcer: Recovery.gov as Disruptive Force?

BY Micah L. Sifry | Monday, February 9 2009

Check out this report from Clint Hendler of CJR.org, who is tracking President Obama's comments at today's town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Indiana. He quotes Obama describing Recovery.gov in the following way:

“We’re actually going to set up something called Recovery.gov—this is going to be a special website we set up, that gives you a report on where the money is going in your community, how it’s being spent, how many jobs it’s being created so that all of you can be the eyes and ears. And if you see that a project is not working the way it’s supposed to, you’ll be able to get on that website and say, ‘You know, I thought this was supposed to be going to school construction but I haven’t noticed any changes being made.’ And that will help us track how this money is being spent....The key is that we’re going to have strong oversight and strong transparency to make sure this money isn’t being wasted.”

As I argued yesterday, Obama has a different vision for how government is going to work under his administration: with lots more citizen input to make sure it actually works. No one has ever tried anything at this scale (unless you want to go back to the Johnson days of "maximum feasible participation" in the government's anti-poverty program, and people will long memories may recall that involving poor people in their own uplift didn't sit well with incumbent mayors and other local power brokers).

I'm sure Obama's pronouncements on the shape of Recovery.gov are probably keeping his new media team awake 24-7, but his political team ought to be paying attention too. Imagine if citizens take his exhortations to heart and start monitoring their local government(s) to track how the money is being spent, and the site makes it easy for them to visibly share and pool those reports. Who exactly is responsible if, say, a school construction grant isn't being used properly? Recovery.gov could be a great tool for making government work, but along the way, it might also make a lot of existing government workers pretty unhappy.

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