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Orszag Lays Out In-House Asks on Open Stimulus

BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, February 19 2009

New incoming Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag gave every department and agency formal notice on what it needs to do to stay on the good side of Recovery.gov, in the form of a 60-page all-agency memo numbered M-09-10. Recovery.gov might be groundbreaking from the cheap seats, but much of the memo will be familiar reading to its intended audience. In many ways -- from reporting requirements and even data formats demanded -- what Orszag's asking of agencies on Recovery.gov mimics what they're already doing for the federal contracts portal USAspending.gov.

Orszag leads with the case for how essential every moving part of the federal government will be to whether Recovery.gov is a success or failure:

The guidance issued today contains critical action steps that Federal agencies must take immediately to meet these objectives and to implement the Act effectively. Of particular note, the guidance addresses Federal agency requirements to provide spending and performance data to the “Recovery.gov” website. To deliver a website that allows citizens to hold the government accountable for every dollar spent, the law and guidance require Federal agencies to implement mechanisms to accurately track, monitor, and report on taxpayer funds.

Orszag's OMB is, in my understanding, driving Recovery.gov -- much as they took the lead on the USAspending site that was created as the result of the strange-bedfellows legislative coupling between Barack Obama and Republicans Tom Coburn and John McCain. Like every other agency, a good chunk of OMB staff are career employees, some of whom were around for the first go-round of this process with the USAspending site.

Orszag's memo makes clear what a successful Recovery.gov demands of them and other federal staff. The road to insular, closed, and opaque government is paved with good intentions. How transparent the stimulus will be depends in enormous part on the heavy lifting required from a great many civil servants scattered throughout DC and beyond.

Note: The chart above is agency compliance with the directives behind USAspending.gov.