February 18, 2009

Can Recovery.gov Deliver on its Promise?

MAKING PRETTY Web sites appears to be a core competency of the Obama Administration. Just as the president signed the economic stimulus bill, Recovery.gov went online to chronicle the spending of the $787 billion appropriated by the law.

On Day 1, the site doesn’t have that much information on it. There is a time line of what will happen with the law’s programs and an interactive map showing how many jobs the government estimates it will create or save in each state. But soon, the site promises, there will be information on where and how the funds are spent including evaluations of each program’s performance.

The site promises far more than information.

“We are counting on your participation,” President Obama says in a YouTube video at the top of the site’s home page. “Instead of politicians doling out money behind closed doors, the important decisions about where taxpayer dollars are invested will be yours to scrutinize.”

Mr. Obama’s statement seems to imply that the public’s main role will be to monitor spending and flag potential abuse. There is no hint of what mechanism it will use to do this. One person’s abuse, after all, is another’s stimulus.

Recovery.gov asks its users to write about their experiences. The site says, "The economic crisis has touched all of us, regardless of the states we live or the industries in which we work...We want to know how the economic crisis and this recovery program are affecting you...In a few months, this site will allow you to peruse extensive data that will enable you to measure our progress..."

Time will tell if user comments are shared with the president or published on the web site - it will be interesting to follow the site to see if it can deliver on the promise of involving more people directly in the government.

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