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What's in the New Recovery.Gov (And What's Missing)

BY Joshua Sherman | Tuesday, February 17 2009

Home | Recovery.govRecovery.gov just launched. And that, of course, calls for an insta-reaction to what's on the as-released federal stimulus oversight site and what's not there, yet.

What's There:

Graceful Timeline of the "Recovery" Process. It's an elegant, scrollable look at the so-far brief history of the stimulus, and simple way to make a massive overhaul of American society appear eminently ordered. Milestones to lookout for are already marked, like March 3 -- the date that federal agencies are required to start reporting how they're spending stimulus dollars. (Nuts and bolts for the geeks: the timeline is, it seems, using the MIT Simile Web Widgets timeline API.)

Cute Bubble Charts. In pleasing pastels, the chart displays where, in very broad categories, the $800 billion or so is going -- though it's going to take more than Easter Eggs colors to calm some on the left after they see how Obama's using the despised phrase "tax relief." Bonus: a job impact map.

Share Your Story Feature. Revealing that Recovery.gov isn't all about numbers, the site bakes in what's quickly becoming a hallmark of Obama online: a narrative-collecting feature.

Exit Notices. Which I only mention because, really, could there be anything more archaically inane than "You are exiting..." pop-ups when you move from one federal website to another federal website to another federal website? I mean, reading the text of the stimulus bill requires okaying one exit notice on the hop from Recovery.gov, and another on the jump from WhiteHouse.gov to the Government Printing Office site. Sheesh.

What's Missing:

A Responsible Party. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board which will oversee Recovery.gov, hasn't been formed yet. So, email away! But know that there isn't really yet anyone on the receiving end.

Data. Data. Data. Of course, with the act three hours old, there just isn't much yet. That said, whether Recovery.gov will give open-government advocates the raw data that they're hungering for is still an open question. The site is, thus far, populated by the shiny consumer-end charts. A that's good start, but no replacement, advocates say, for raw XML data then can then use for mash-ups and number crunching.

There are signs that the Administration gets what advocates want. The site promises to "[p]rovide data that will allow citizens to evaluate the Act’s progress and provide feedback," and a question on XML in the FAQs acknowledges the absence of data, but says "as new systems are developed to capture the allocations and expenditures under the Act, we plan to make that data available in exportable form."

Transparency advocates have been concerned that the public will get access to only 10,000-feet-up federal agency accounting -- not drilled-down data on, say, state-level projects. Recovery.gov implies that agencies will be handing over that granular data as a matter of course:

Very soon, the different agencies...will decide who will receive award grants and contracts. Sometimes the money will go to a state government; other times, the funds will go directly to a school, hospital, contractor, or other organization. Agencies will then deliver that information to the Recovery.gov team. We will subsequently make the information available on Recovery.gov, and you will be able to track where the money is going.