23 July 2009

I'm sure loving all this transparency in Washington

$18 Million to Redesign Recovery.gov:

Reminiscent of the no-bid, cost-plus contracts awarded in the Bush administration to defense contractors, ABC News reported last night the Obama Administration awarded a 5 year $18 million contract to Smartronix, a Maryland-based IT firm with connections to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, for the redesign of Recovery.gov.

Launched in February to track the expenditures of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Recovery.gov was to be the pinnacle of web-enabled transparency, according to President Barack Obama."


FedSpending.org, launched in October 2006 with a meager three-year $334,272 grant from the Sunlight Foundation, is a voluminous online database of all federal grants and contracts. And, unlike Recovery.gov, the website monitors the entire federal budget, and does so at a fraction of the projected cost of Recovery.gov.

Of course, the revelation that the private sector outperforms the federal government is not new. Recovery.org, a project of Onvia, monitors the flow of recovery funds from the federal government to private businesses in real-time, unlike its overpriced government counterpart which reports spending 100 days after-the-fact, thereby enabling wasteful or fraudulent spending.


Assuming, however, that the White House got a bargain on Recovery.gov’s redesign, the public is still, largely, in the dark on both how and where that $18 million will be spent, which, in and of itself, is comically ironic when one considers the intended aim of the website, that is, to provide information to the public to monitor stimulus spending.

Assuming, as the generous people we are, again that the White House got a bargain on Recovery.gov’s redesign and now that Smartronix will make the rebuilding process open and transparent, there is still the troubling issue of why. Why was Smartronix awarded the contract?

The Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso notes an important political connection between the Maryland-based firm and Congressman Hoyer as a potential explanation. Smartronix’s President and Vice President have together given $19,000 to Hoyer’s campaign coffers since 1999, according to FEC reports.

You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours make sure you get a $18 million contract to redesign a government website.


Is this a pretty trivial amount of money? Yeah, sure. But when you make your whole shtick about openness and accountability and then you pull dubious shenanigans paying for a tool whose entire purpose is to aid openness and accountability, and the tool sucks at it anyway, I'm going to call you out.

Same thing with this whole business about not releasng the mid-year budget review until after the summer recess. Maybe it's because his house just isn't in order and these things often fall behind in the first year of an administration. Maybe it's because the Barackstar knows the news will be grim enough to hurt health care legislation in Congress. Maybe a little of both. But potentially legitimate excuses ring pretty empty in my ears when I've been hearing for 18 months about how we're going to get a Brand New Day of transparency and change.

Let's not even get started on the shattered "sunlight before signing" thing. That's just sloppy, and frankly, a little rude.

There's one hole in every revolution, large or small. And it's one word long — people.
Spider Jerusalem

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