Wednesday, January 28, 2009

recovery.gov - Will it be enough?

The president and congress is busy hashing out the stimulus package. And while they do this, you can actually follow along. Weighing in at 258 pages, and being written in govyspeak, this isn't exactly easy to do. But, browsing through the bill, I noticed what a high profile the recovery.gov website receives. On page 20 it explains:

REQUIREMENT TO ESTABLISH WEBSITE.
The Board shall establish and maintain a website on the Internet to be named Recovery.gov, to foster greater account ability and transparency in the use of funds made available in this Act.

Excellent. The report even outlines what needs to be published there. For example, on page 12 the bill explains:

(A) Each such agency shall notify the public of funds obligated to particular infrastructure investments by posting the notification on the website Recovery.gov.
(B) The notification required by subparagraph (A) shall include the following:
(i) A description of the infrastructure investment funded.
(ii) The purpose of the infrastructure investment.
(iii) The total cost of the infrastructure investment.
(iv) The rationale of the agency for funding the infrastructure investment with funds made available under this Act.
(v) The name of the person to contact at the agency if there are concerns with the infrastructure investment and, with respect to Federal agencies, an email address for the Federal official in the agency whom the public can contact.

Again, this is more good news. As a citizen, we can understand why our money is being spent the way it is.

This is a huge step forward. But, is it forward enough? Why not write into the bill provisions for more functionality, like say...

  • What about a facility for the public to ask questions, and have the answer provided by the contact? Of course, the responses would be archived.
  • What about a digg style voting of the projects, where you can view the most and least popular among those funded? This would tell our government (a) where they are doing a good job (and have our support) and (b) where either the public has found a project unworthy of support, or more likely, where a project needs more information to justify its existence.
  • What about requiring RSS feeds and an API? That is, make the site not only one visitors can benefit from, but also one programmers can leverage. Can you imagine a Google Maps + Funded Projects mashup? That's a no brainer. This is also nice because the government won't have to add all the features to recovery.gov, concerned citizens will be able to chip in and help too.
  • What about taking the Facebook Fan concept and using it for projects. Imagine that as a fan of a project, you'd get regular updates about the status and perhaps even be involved in helping.
  • What about a feedback area, where citizens can report how the project has positively or negatively impacted them personally.
  • What about requiring the project owner to publish photos or videos of how the project is proceeding?

Clearly, recovery.gov is a step in the right direction and one that hopefully everyone can get behind. I just hope they understand that simply having a website isn't good enough. Like the rest of us on the web, they've got to innovate.

2 comments:

  1. I think we need to wait until the site is actually up to pass judgment. I doubt they'll be including all the features you suggested, but they may incorporate some sort of user interaction/feedback interface. I think the fact that they're even putting up this site is a big step in the right direction. Obama is going to be the first Web 2.0 president. Do you think we'd be seeing all these open government initiatives if McCain was president? Whitehouse.gov would probably be written in basic HTML with <blink></blink> tags all over the place.

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  2. Jordan -

    I couldn't agree more - recovery.gov is a huge step forward.

    Heck, maybe they'll surprise me and deliver more than what the bill appears to requires. They certainly did some slick things on change.gov - so they definitely have the team to make it happen.

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