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5/1/2009
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Government Seeks IT Help To Track Stimulus Funds

Getting IT and Web input from citizens for Recovery.gov is a way to "engage the American people in ingenuity and innovation," says federal CIO Vivek Kundra.

At Recovery.gov this week, there's a YouTube video best described as a plea for help. Earl Devaney, chairman of the federal government's Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, asks that "leading IT businesses, thought leaders, developers, and consumers" join an online discussion to "influence how Recovery.gov is built and operated."

There's a big opportunity for IT vendors to participate in the creation of the $84 million Web site, as well as creative, thoughtful, and technically minded citizens. And Recovery.gov really does need good input. For starters, 29 federal agencies are being asked to report in RSS or Atom data-feed format, beginning in July, the details of all contracts and grants they award using funds from the $787 billion stimulus package President Obama signed in February, down to the subrecipient level.

Recovery.gov then has the job of making that data visually appealing and searchable by citizens, journalists, watchdog groups, government officials, and anyone else who's interested in it.

That means if Housing and Urban Development makes a block grant to the city of New York, which then gives the grant to a nonprofit housing organization, then HUD needs to report that nonprofit as the recipient.

It's easy to see how this gets complicated with 29 federal agencies and hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus funds going out to hundreds or thousands of subrecipients. In a recent conversation, MicroStrategy chief operating officer Sanju Bansal said the effort behind Recovery.gov is "not unequivalent to building a national highway system." His company submitted an analysis and visualization dashboard it developed for review at the site.

In his video to participate in the "IT Dialogue," Devaney said Recovery.gov needs the most innovative approaches and solutions -- but they have to be low-maintenance, low-cost technologies that scale with minimum customization.

His request for input is expansive: how to collect, store, and warehouse data; how to analyze and visualize that data; how to detect fraud and abuse of stimulus funds; and how federal and state agencies can collaborate on data collection. Web site visitors are invited to pitch ideas, tag them, tag other ideas to form connections, and rate and comment on ideas.

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