When President Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 into law Tuesday, he announced that Recovery.gov, a Web site he first spoke about last month, was live. The new Web site is committed to transparently showing citizens where all of the $787 billion in the stimulus package is being spent.
While I applaud the Obama Administration for their committment to openness and for using the Web as their main tool of transparency, Recovery.gov has some issues.
First, CNET reported that Recovery.gov initially included a robots.txt file. A robots.txt file blocks so-called bots (including search engine crawlers) from accessing a Web site. While the White House has since removed the bot-blocker, one can't help but wonder why someone wouldn't want Google crawling a Web site about transparency in the first place. The White House did not comment on this.
Perhaps most importantly, the Web site only scratches the surface of breaking down the massive package into bits and pieces. While the federal government begins to dole out stimulus money, it seems the Web site is still a work in progress -- one can only see two metrics: a state-by-state breakdown of job creation and a very broad estimate of investments made. Yet the bill contains very specific uses for the money -- a point that someone would never understand by looking at the fancy yet hardly useful graphics on this Web site.
However, we have yet to see the full potential of this new site. A searchable database of some sort seems to be on the way -- as evidenced by strict reporting requirements mandated by the Office of Management and Budget. Hopefully the database will implement a user-friendly design to tackle the hoards of data soon to flow through government computers.
It also seems like individual states have mimicked the concept. Colorado, where Obama signed the stimulus, has created their own economic stimulus Web site. This action is not neccessary (I wonder if we'll see it in states with Republican governors) but should prove to serve as a nice complement to the main Recovery.gov Web site.
One thing is for certain: despite a bumpy start, if Recovery.gov works as intended, we've surely entered a new era of Web-based transparency.