WASHINGTON–The Obama White Houses new tech chief is urging citizens to go
online and police government spending for waste, fraud and abuse.
But the only way government officials –the president, Congress, governors
and mayors– will be held accountable for the billions and billions of
taxpayer dollars being spent to bail out the economy is if the mainstream
press, privately funded investigative outfits and activist citizens
President Obama campaigned on creating a more transparent government. His
administration is promising never-before-available research tools and data
“We have the ability to run an open, transparent, participatory and
collaborative government,” said Vivek Kundra, last week named Obamas new
chief information officer, speaking in a conference call with reporters.
It wont be easy.
The main White House site www.whitehouse.gov has beautiful photo
is having trouble keeping up with a minimal level of
The White House staff page has only six names. The nominations
and appointments page needs updating to include everyone in the Obama White
House. Gary Locke, Obamas choice for commerce secretary, is not even listed
as an appointee, nor is the confirmation of Hilda Solis as labor secretary
This from a site that should be “an X-ray into the work of the White House,”
Ellen Miller told me Sunday. She is the executive director of the Sunlight
Foundation, doing groundbreaking work on databases and collaborative
research projects to put information about the government on the Internet.
Kundra is clearly committed to advancing an open government agenda. Hes
done something rare. Kundra is asking the wired nation to rise up and
“There is going to be accountability not just limited to the governors, the
mayors and the federal government, but also to individual citizens, who
should be holding their elected officials and public officials accountable
by going online,” Kundra said.
“What he is saying,” Miller said, is that the Internet offers the
opportunities for every citizen to become their own watchdogs and to hold
their elected officials accountable for what they do and who they do it for..
This is certainly a modern-day call to arms.”
Tracking the spending in the gargantuan American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act will have to occur at every layer of government, with www.recovery.gov a
start. The State of Illinois is setting up http://recovery.illinois.gov/
Once this expected torrent of data is posted, its going to take a lot of
eyes to make sense of the information to guard for waste, fraud and abuse,
especially when newsrooms are shrinking.
There are collaborative models. Millers Sunlight Foundation and Huffington
Posts OffTheBus project, run by Amanda Michel, are standouts. Michel is now
at the privately funded investigative journalism site, www.propublica.org.
Propublica is keeping tabs on the Obama stimulus bill at
Michel writes in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism
Review about the citizen power she married with traditional journalism.
The Obama administration reporting requirements need improvement if they are
to be meaningful. The White House Office of Management and Budget needs to
rethink its requirement that only prime recipients report spending online
and not subcontractors on the ground. Contracting schemes — involving cons,
crooks or cronyism— happen at micro and macro levels.
All contract information — all the raw data –needs to be posted.
As Miller said, “Transparency is transparency. Everything means everything.”