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5/11/2009
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Fed's Recovery.gov Site Faces Huge Hurdles

President Obama has made Internet-enabled government transparency a cornerstone of his administration, and the biggest test of that vision will be Recovery.gov, a Website designed to let citizens track most of $787 billion in economic stimulus spending. Early in the execution, however, we're seeing signs of problems.

President Obama has made Internet-enabled government transparency a cornerstone of his administration, and the biggest test of that vision will be Recovery.gov, a Website designed to let citizens track most of $787 billion in economic stimulus spending. Early in the execution, however, we're seeing signs of problems.In InformationWeek's cover story this week, we take you through the various technological and organizational hurdles facing development of this site. The Office of Management and Budget's guidelines for Recovery.gov call for awardees of federal grants and contracts-typically states and cities-to report to the government how the funds are used and how many jobs they create, and they're to get that information from the various businesses and organizations that end up with the funds. The guidelines call for this all to be online by October.

To get an idea of the complexity of this effort, let's draw a comparison to the business world: Imagine if Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, had to set up an entire electronic-data information network, using the Internet, that extended down through its primary suppliers and the tens of thousands of companies that supply those suppliers. Oh, and it had to do it within six months. Seems highly unlikely, doesn't it?

Now imagine the federal government having to do the same thing with the addition of bureaucratic red tape, while working through the cultural shifts required to make it happen, and getting it all done-with the addition of online tools for detecting fraud and waste of funds-before all the money is spent.

I think the enormity of this project has hit the politico managing it, Earl Devaney, like a ton of bricks. Last week Devaney warned a House subcommittee that the Oct. 10 reporting deadline will be difficult to meet. Congress gave the board $84 million for the reporting, which Devaney reportedly said is enough to establish the data warehouse and centralized online reporting system. "I have enough money," Devaney said. "Money is not the constraint. Time is the constraint, and it is unusual to say that in government."

Yes, this project could become another expensive federal IT blunder, but it's way too early to be pessimistic. It does seem that some compromises may have to be made along the way to make this site accessible and useful in a timely manner.

Regardless, American citizens should share in the excitement that this project, with all its trials and tribulations, will push the federal government much farther along into using the Internet to communicate and share information with its citizens.

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