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Nation of sleuths needed to track stimulus bill. White House web site having trouble keeping up

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WASHINGTON--The Obama White House¹s new tech chief is urging citizens to go
online and police government spending for waste, fraud and abuse.

But the only way government officials --the president, Congress, governors
and mayors-- will be held accountable for the billions and billions of
taxpayer dollars being spent to bail out the economy is if the mainstream
press, privately funded investigative outfits and activist citizens
collaborate.

President Obama campaigned on creating a more transparent government. His
administration is promising never-before-available research tools and data
disclosures.

"We have the ability to run an open, transparent, participatory and
collaborative government," said Vivek Kundra, last week named Obama¹s new
chief information officer, speaking in a conference call with reporters.

It won¹t be easy.

The main White House site ‹ www.whitehouse.gov ‹ has beautiful photo
galleries but

is having trouble keeping up with a minimal level of
transparency.

The White House staff page has only six names. The nominations
and appointments page needs updating to include everyone in the Obama White
House. Gary Locke, Obama¹s choice for commerce secretary, is not even listed
as an appointee, nor is the confirmation of Hilda Solis as labor secretary
noted.

This from a site that should be "an X-ray into the work of the White House,"
Ellen Miller told me Sunday. She is the executive director of the Sunlight
Foundation, doing groundbreaking work on databases and collaborative
research projects to put information about the government on the Internet.

Kundra is clearly committed to advancing an open government agenda. He¹s
done something rare. Kundra is asking the wired nation to rise up and
research.

"There is going to be accountability not just limited to the governors, the
mayors and the federal government, but also to individual citizens, who
should be holding their elected officials and public officials accountable
by going online," Kundra said.

"What he is saying," Miller said, ³is that the Internet offers the
opportunities for every citizen to become their own watchdogs and to hold
their elected officials accountable for what they do and who they do it for..
This is certainly a modern-day call to arms."

Tracking the spending in the gargantuan American Recovery and Reinvestment
Act will have to occur at every layer of government, with www.recovery.gov a
start. The State of Illinois is setting up http://recovery.illinois.gov/
transparency.htm.

Once this expected torrent of data is posted, it¹s going to take a lot of
eyes to make sense of the information to guard for waste, fraud and abuse,
especially when newsrooms are shrinking.

There are collaborative models. Miller¹s Sunlight Foundation and Huffington
Post¹s OffTheBus project, run by Amanda Michel, are standouts. Michel is now
at the privately funded investigative journalism site, www.propublica.org.
Propublica is keeping tabs on the Obama stimulus bill at
www.propublica.org/ion/stimulus.

Michel writes in the latest issue of the Columbia Journalism
Review about the ³citizen power² she married with traditional journalism.

The Obama administration reporting requirements need improvement if they are
to be meaningful. The White House Office of Management and Budget needs to
rethink its requirement that only prime recipients report spending online
and not subcontractors on the ground. Contracting schemes -- involving cons,
crooks or cronyism--- happen at micro and macro levels.

All contract information -- all the raw data --needs to be posted.

As Miller said, "Transparency is transparency. Everything means everything."

2 Comments

There's a lot more to transparency than meets the eye, isn't there? Thanks for bringing all these valid points to light.

Linda M. Lopeke
The SMARTSTART Coach

The Credit Card Bill is a great news for people like me who are using credit card almost everyday of my life to purchase something for myself and my family. Credit card companies, since they are in the financial industry, have been taking hits. Credit card companies, since they are facing lower revenues, are doing whatever they can to gouge the customers they need to survive. (Not that Wall Street ever does much to do things like try to serve customers needs or anything.) A lot of people end up getting overcharged for inactivity (they're not supposed to charge for it, period) and it ends up damaging their credit score (your credit score gets damaged for not adding more debt, makes sense?) and it has a lot of people turning to payday loans instead. It isn't surprising – the leading cause of need for debt consolidation is credit card companies.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on March 9, 2009 12:41 AM.

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