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BY Nancy Scola | Thursday, April 28 2011

The team behind the federal government's much-critcized site recently rolled out a pair of mobile versions of the site, customized for the iPhone and iPad.

The pair of apps make use of the fact that our Apple mobile devices keep tabs on our location. (Who knew?) If you're in the United States, the app zooms into your spot on the map and displays the stimulus funded projects nearby. Green dots indicate a government contract. Blue dots point to a grant. And pink dots mean a federal loan. There's a dash of interactivity here. If that dance studio on the west side given $50,000 to keep jobs in the arts actually turns out to actually be a vacant lot, you can take a picture from your iPhone or iPad 2 and send it to the team in an email pre-filled with the details of the contract.

Government mobile apps often prompt questions about whether there's an actual need being met here, all the more so when they're not built in-house. According to the iTunes store, Smartronix Inc. is the creator of the apps. You might remember that that's the same firm that got attention back in the summer of 2009 when it was awarded, through a closed bidding process, a contract for the recreation of the struggling that was potentially worth an eye-catching $18 million through 2014.

But the original (though heavily-redacted) contract between the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and Smartronix that was released by GSA to ProPublica under a Freedom of Information Act request doesn't seem to mention anything about any mobile apps; I've put a call into the company to see how the iPhone and iPad apps came about.