Thursday, July 9, 2009 Gets A FaceLift

Get a load of this from Mary Katharine Ham:

Well, (or is it 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.

“ 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.
Apparently, the first whack at transparency fell a bit short, so now they're dumping a bunch more money into it to take a second crack at it.

Ham goes on to reveal the giant flaw in the entire concept, which was illustrated by Mike Pickett testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform:

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... should track [stimulus] spending while it is actively in the contracting process for the reasons I have mentioned above. I have heard people say that it can’t be done. And there is a natural transparency barrier. The market is highly fragmented: there are more than 89,000 Federal, State, Local and Education entities across the country and an estimated 20,000 of these will receive a portion of funds from [the stimulus].

So, even if there was a concerted effort to track stimulus spending (which there isn't), it would still fail because by the time anyone got a look at where the spending was going, it would be too late to stop it.

For a transparent accountability system, it sucks...but for a political payback system, it's brilliant.

I have a fantastic idea. I will offer the Obama administration my services in building their new website, but my price tag will be a measly $8 million, over 10% less than their own lowest estimate, and thus a great deal for taxpayers. I will also guarantee that the website will be done in half the time and be far more functional and user-friendly, too. [No, I'm not a web designer, but for $8 million, I'm pretty damned confident that I can quit my job, learn web design, and still get the job done quicker than the normal government process would take.]

Think I'll get the job?

There's my two cents.

A sharp-eyed reader offers this correction:
The government website that's being redone for $18M is is a free service provided by private company Onvia, that provides detailed stimulus funding tracking at no cost to taxpayers.
Thank you!

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