Nation of sleuths needed to track stimulus bill. White House web site having trouble keeping up

SHARE Nation of sleuths needed to track stimulus bill. White House web site having trouble keeping up

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

collaborate.

President Obama campaigned on creating a more transparent government. His

administration is promising never-before-available research tools and data

disclosures.

“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

galleries but

is having trouble keeping up with a minimal level of

transparency.

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

noted.

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

research.

“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/

transparency.htm.

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

www.propublica.org/ion/stimulus.

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.”

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