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Obama Admin. Pays $18 Mill for Something That Already Exists

3:55 PM, Jul 9, 2009 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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Well, Recovery.gov (or is it Recvoery.gov?) needs more than nifty diagrams of money that may or may not have already been spent, so the tech-savviest administration ever went looking for a vendor. It succeeded in getting one to redesign the site for a mere $18 million:

The new Web site promises to give taxpayers more information about where their money is going than the current version of the site.

"Recovery.gov 2.0 will use innovative and interactive technologies to help taxpayers see where their dollars are being spent," James A. Williams, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service, says in a press release announcing the contract awarded to Maryland-based Smartronix Inc. "Armed with easy access to this information, taxpayers can make government more accountable for its decisions."

The contract calls for spending $9.5 million through January, and as much as $18 million through 2014, according to the GSA press release.

"We are pleased that another major milestone has been achieved," Earl E. Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, says in the press release. "We thank the GSA for its assistance and look forward to working with Smartronix."

So, it could only cost $9 million, with the option to spend up to $18 million. Raise your hand if you think the government will end up on the low end of that estimate. No one? All right. Moving on. Sunlight Labs, which bid on the job, notes that we have no idea yet what we're supposed to be getting for this $18 million. Just like the stimulus! Maybe someday we can pay $13 million for a site that will track the $18 million-dollar tracking site redesign, a year after the fact. Twitter is lousy today with discussion of the pricetag.

The changes to the site are necessary to live up to the promises Obama made about transparency when passing the stimulus:

"With a recovery package of this size comes a responsibility to assure every taxpayer that
we are being careful with the money they worked so hard to earn. And that's why I'm
assigning a team of managers to ensure that the precious dollars we've invested are being
spent wisely and well...

And we expect you, the American people, to hold us accountable for the results. And that's why we created Recovery.gov, a Web site so that every American can go online and see how this money is being spent and what kind of jobs is being created, where those jobs are being created. We want transparency and accountability throughout this process."

Of course, because the necessary changes will be taking place after more than $100 billion has been spent, and during a summer when the administration has promised to increase the speed of spending (Although who knows by how much? Not the White House!), there's no way to tell how much of that money has been lost to waste or fraud and how much has been spent wisely.

Or, is there? At Recovery.org, a site run by a private company whose job it is to track government spending and contract processes, there's real-time tracking of stimulus spending. They normally collect and sell such information to businesses looking for government contracts, but decided to chart the stimulus because they realized they could deliver what Obama had promised.

The company's CEO Mike Pickett testified to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform yesterday about the site, which is frequently used by U.S. government agencies themselves to track stimulus spending in the absence of a useful iteration of Recovery.gov:

Reporting spending 100 days after the spending occurs does not prevent spending that is fraudulent, wasteful and abusive. Near real-time reporting is possible and should be required...