Meet the New

...(mostly) the same as the old

The new went online this morning, and it is...less than revolutionary. I've spent the morning poking around it and checking out the new features. Even though the really important stuff -- the recipient data -- will not be available until Oct. 15, I was hoping that the new site would significantly change the way Recovery watchers would be able to access Recovery spending data. This version, however, is not that site.

New Mapping Tool Front and center is a new map with which you can enter a ZIP code or click on a state to reveal contract, grant, and loan details for that geographic area. The new map is a great improvement over the previous version, but users are still unable to access or download a list of Recovery projects in their ZIP code (true, they can see them graphically on a map, but that's as far as it goes.)

Agency Spending Data There is still no relationship between the weekly agency reports and the Recovery data in Totals on each set of data do not match the other, and while this is explained as a data-entry timing issue, there is still no attempt to reconcile the two reports. I hope that come Oct. 15, recipient data will be tied to at least either or the weekly agency reports. But, even within the weekly agency reports, users cannot click on a program and drill down to more specific data like contract and grant level data.

Non-Competitive Contracts While there is a special section for awarded non-competitive contracts, the list in a PDF and provides no links to further information about the contracts. In fact, the list that is in the PDF contains only the awarding agency, recipient, amount, and date signed. Without more details, like an award identification number, users are left to wander around and/or tracking down details of these contracts.

Contract and Grant Opportunities Contract and grant "Opportunities" are listed on the site, but their listings are only marginally useful. The Grants page contains a list of four open grants with some details, linking users to (Are we to assume that there are only four Recovery Act grants available?) The Contracts page is similar, except it contains brief descriptions of exactly 50 awarded contracts and exactly 25 "up for bid" contracts (space limitations?). Although each contract listing contains a link to more details on, the lists are neither sortable nor searchable, not allowing users to narrow them down to save time in their searches.

Download Center There is a "Download Center" from which users can download agency reporting data (and eventually recipient data). This is actually a really nice feature. Technologically savvy users can download XML files of contract, grant, and loan data. (When I tried downloading these data this morning, the grants file was empty.) Also found in the Download Center are the weekly agency reports, but I am chagrinned to report that no improvements have been made in the weekly agency reports: They are still in agency-specific, hyperlink-free spreadsheets, rather than one master list.

The Recovery Board has added a new deck on the back of the house and put in some great landscaping, but the real questions remain: Have they repaired the foundation and fixed the plumbing? Only when recipient data come online and after the first phase of Smartronix contract expires in January will we know if this is the right house for Recovery Act transparency.

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