Tag: transparency

Why Wall Street Loves Obama

wall streetWas it just me, or did there seem to be a whole lot of applause during Obama’s Wall Street speech?  Remember this was a room full of Wall Street executives.  The President even started by thanking the Wall Street execs for their “warm welcome.”

While of course, there was the obligatory slap on the wrist, that “we will not go back to the days of reckless behavior and unchecked excess,” but there was no mention that the bailouts were a thing of the past.  Indeed, there is nothing in Obama’s financial plan that would prevent future bailouts, which is why I believe there was such applause.  The message to the Goldman’s of the world, was, you better behave, but even if you don’t, you, and your debtholders will be bailed out.

The president also repeatedly called for “clear rules” and “transparency” - but where exactly in his plan is the clear line dividing who will or will not be bailed out?  That’s the part Wall Street loves the most; they can all say we’ve “learned the lesson of Lehman:  Wall Street firms cannot be allowed to fail.”  At least that’s the lesson that Obama, Geithner and Bernanke have taken away.  The truth is we’ve been down this road before with Fannie and Freddie.  Politicians always called for them to do their part, and that their misdeeds would not be tolerated.  Remember all the tough talk after the 2003 and 2004 accounting scandals at Freddie and Fannie?  But still they got bailed out, and what new regulations were imposed were weak and ineffective.

As if the applause wasn’t enough, as Charles Gaspario points out, financial stocks rallied after the president’s speech.  Clearly the markets don’t see his plan as bad for the financial industry.

It would seem the best investment Goldman has made in recent years was in its employees deciding to become the largest single corporate contributor to the Obama Presidential campaign.  That’s an investment that continues to yield massive dividends.

A Bizarre Privacy Indictment

Page one of today’s Washington Times—above the fold—has a fascinating story indicting the White House for failing to disclose that it will collect and retain material posted by visitors to its pages on social networking sites like Facebook and YouTube. The story is fascinating because so much attention is being paid to it. (It was first reported, as an aside at least, by Major Garrett on Fox News a month ago.)

The question here is not over the niceties of the Presidential Records Act, which may or may not require collection and storage of the data. It’s over people’s expectations when they use the Internet.

Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the White House signaled that it would insist on open dealings with Internet users and, in fact, should feel obliged to disclose that it is collecting such information.

Of course, the White House is free to disclose or announce anything it wants. It might be nice to disclose this particular data practice. But is it really a breach of privacy—and, through failure to notify, transparency—if there isn’t a distinct disclosure about this particular data collection?

Let’s talk about what people expect when they use the Internet and social networking sites. Though the Internet is a gigantic copying machine, some may not know that data is collected online. They may imagine that, in the absence of notice, the data they post will not be warehoused and redistributed, even though that’s exactly what the Internet does.

There can be special problems when it is the government collecting the information. The White House’s “flag [at] whitehouse [dot] gov” tip line was concerning because it asked Americans to submit information about others. There is a history of presidents amassing “enemies” lists. But this is not the complaint with White House tracking of data posted on its social networking sites.

People typically post things online because they want publicity for those things—often they want publicity for the fact that they are the ones posting, too. When they write letters, they give publicity to the information in the letter and the fact of having sent it. When they hold up signs, they seek publicity for the information on the signs, and their own role in publicizing it.

How strange that taking note of the things people publicize is taken as a violation of their privacy. And failing to notify them of the fact they will be observed and recorded is a failure of transparency.

America, for most of what you do, you do not get “notice” of the consequences. Instead, in the real world and online, you grown-ups are “on notice” that information you put online can be copied, stored, retransmitted, and reused in countless ways. Aside from uses that harm you, you have little recourse against that after you have made the decision to release information about yourself.

The White House is not in the wrong here. If there’s a lesson, it’s that people are responsible for their own privacy and need to be aware of how information moves in the online environment.

Public Information and Public Choice

MalamudOne of the high points of last week’s Gov 2.0 Summit was transparency champion Carl Malamud’s speech on the history of public access to government information – ending with a clarion call for  government documents, data, and deliberation to be made more freely available online. The argument is a clear slam-dunk on simple grounds of fairness and democratic accountability. If we’re going to be bound by the decisions made by regulatory agencies and courts, surely at a bare minimum we’re all entitled to know what those decisions are and how they were arrived at. But as many of the participants at the conference stressed, it’s not enough for the data to be available – it’s important that it be free, and in a machine readable form. Here’s one example of why, involving the PACER system for court records:

The fees for bulk legal data are a significant barrier to free enterprise, but an insurmountable barrier for the public interest. Scholars, nonprofit groups, journalists, students, and just plain citizens wishing to analyze the functioning of our courts are shut out. Organizations such as the ACLU and EFF and scholars at law schools have long complained that research across all court filings in the federal judiciary is impossible, because an eight cent per page charge applied to tens of millions of pages makes it prohibitive to identify systematic discrimination, privacy violations, or other structural deficiencies in our courts.

If you’re thinking in terms of individual cases – even those involving hundreds or thousands of pages of documents – eight cents per page might not sound like a very serious barrier. If you’re trying to do a meta-analysis that looks for patterns and trends across the body of cases as a whole, not only is the formal fee going to be prohibitive in the aggregate, but even free access won’t be much help unless the documents are in a format that can be easily read and processed by computers, given the much higher cost of human CPU cycles. That goes double if you want to be able to look for relationships across multiple different types of documents and data sets.

All familiar enough to transparency boosters. Is there a reason proponents of limited government ought to be especially concerned with this, beyond a general fondness for openness? Here’s one reason.  Public choice theorists often point to the problem of diffuse costs and concentrated benefits as a source of bad policy. In brief, a program that inefficiently transfers a million dollars from millions of taxpayers to a few beneficiaries will create a million dollar incentive for the beneficiaries to lobby on its behalf, while no individual taxpayer has much motivation to expend effort on recovering his tiny share of the benefit of axing the program. And political actors have similarly strong incentives to create identifiable constituencies who benefit from such programs and kick back those benefits in the form of either donations or public support. What Malamud and others point out is that one thing those concentrated beneficiaries end up doing is expending resources remaining fairly well informed about what government is doing – what regulations and expenditures are being contemplated – in order to be able to act for or against them in a timely fashion.

Now, as the costs of organizing dispersed people get lower thanks to new technologies, we’re seeing increasing opportunities to form ad hoc coalitions supporting and opposing policy changes with more dispersed costs and benefits – which is good, and works to erode the asymmetry that generates a lot of bad policy. But incumbent constituencies have the advantage of already being organized and able to invest resources in identifying policy changes that implicate their interests. If ten complex regulations are under consideration, and one creates a large benefit to an incumbent constituent while imposing smaller costs on a much larger group of people, it’s a great advantage if the incumbent is aware of the range of options in advance, and can push for their favored option, while the dispersed losers only become cognizant of it when the papers report on the passage of a specific rule and slowly begin teasing out its implications.

Put somewhat more briefly: Technology that lowers organizing costs can radically upset a truly pernicious public choice dynamic, but only if the information necessary to catalyze the formation of a blocking coalition is out there in a form that allows it to be sifted and analyzed by crowdsourced methods first. Transparency matters less when organizing costs are high, because the fight is ultimately going to be decided by a punch up between large, concentrated interest groups for whom the cost of hiring experts to learn about and analyze the implications of potential policy changes is relatively trivial. As transaction costs fall, and there’s potential for spontaneous, self-identifying coalitions to form, those information costs loom much larger. The timely availability – and aggregability – of information about the process of policy formation and its likely consequences then suddenly becomes a key determinant of the power of incumbent constituencies to control policy and extract rents.

A Transparency Reality Check

David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama, emailed me yesterday (along with perhaps several million others) to tell me about a new effort on Whitehouse.gov to dispel “rumors and scare tactics” from people opposing even more government regulation of the health sector. I think the opponents of expanded regulation have the better arguments on the merits.

transparency reality checkI was struck, though, by the effort that has gone into creating an entirely new section of Whitehouse.gov for a “Health Insurance Reform Reality Check,” complete with fancy graphics and videos. (I have modified one of those graphics to illustrate this post. Fun!) Meanwhile, the White House still hasn’t brought itself to do something that President Obama promised on the campaign trail: post bills online for five days before signing them.

Since I last updated the chart, President Obama has signed seven more bills. None of them were posted online for five days, though two were held at the White House for that long before they got the president’s signature.

It’s the president’s prerogative to use Whitehouse.gov for PR, of course. The site and the PR on it would have more legitimacy, though, if it were also a basic resource for information about the legislative business the president conducts — as he promised.

Because the White House has established no uniform location for posting bills, there’s always a chance that I missed postings. I welcome corrections.

In my search for posted bills I did find this blog post, which says “The President believes that a piece of legislation as important as the Recovery Act must be implemented with an unprecedented degree of transparency.” But as you can see below, he denied the public a chance to review the Recovery Act as he promised, making it Public Law 111-5 within a day of its presentment.

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Posted (Linked) for Comment? Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (”WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-41, The Korean War Veterans Recognition Act 7/27/2009 7/27/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-42, Approving the renewal of import restrictions contained in the Burmese Freedom and Democracy Act of 2003, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 7/28/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-43, A bill to provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 7/30/2009 7/31/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-44, The New Frontier Congressional Gold Medal Act 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-45, To authorize the Director of the United States Patent and Trademark Office to use funds made available under the Trademark Act of 1946 for patent operations in order to avoid furloughs and reductions-in-force, and for other purposes 7/27/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-46, To restore sums to the Highway Trust Fund, and for other purposes 8/4/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-47, Making supplemental appropriations for fiscal year 2009 for the Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program 8/6/2009 8/7/2009 No n/a

Transparency: Obama’s Waterloo?

“When congressmen scoff at the notion of reading legislation because they aren’t qualified or they aren’t competent to understand it, how can we be confident that those congressman are competent to reengineer the entire health care system?”

So asked a citizen at a town hall meeting where Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius and Senator Arlen Specter (D-PA) held forth before a cantankerous crowd.

It’s a fair question. And President Obama offered an answer during his campaign. He promised that he would post bills coming to him from Congress online for five days before signing them. Rather than relying on Congress, the public should have more oversight of it.

(Alas, it’s a promise he has violated thirty-nine forty-one times. He signed two more bills into law last week within a day of receiving them.)

Under President Obama’s “Sunlight Before Signing” pledge or the 72-hour-hold in Congress preferred by the Sunlight Foundation, members of Congress and senators would be more reticent to introduce potentially controversial amendments, and they would be more obliged to know and defend what is in the bills they vote on.

President Obama set the standard—if not the precedent—by which lawmaking practice will be judged. He will have to rise to that standard as the public has more leisure to take the measure of his presidency. Congress will too.

(It’s not the president’s Waterloo, of course. I just put that in the title to attract your attention.)

Broken Promises — to Voters and the New York Times

“[O]nce it is clear that a bill will be coming to the president’s desk, the White House will post the bill online,” White House spokesman Nick Shapiro told New York Times reporter Katherine Seelye for her June 22 story on President Obama’s “Sunlight Before Signing” campaign pledge. “This will give the American people a greater ability to review the bill, often many more than five days before the president signs it into law.”

The story, titled “White House Changes the Terms of a Campaign Pledge About Posting Bills Online,” was about the White House effort to walk back from President Obama’s campaign pledge to post bills he receives for five days before signing them.

When the New York Times published the story, five bills had been presented to the president and were awaiting his signature. Four more were presented to him after the story’s publication. All nine are now law.

And for the life of me, I can’t find where any of them have been posted on Whitehouse.gov. Surely it was clear to the White House that the five bills it had and the four soon to come would reach the president’s desk.

I disagree with arguments for releasing President Obama from his pledge to sign bills only after he has posted them for a full five days after receiving them. It would have the same effects as the 72-hour hold the Sunlight Foundation is seeking from Congress — also a welcome legislative process reform.

And it’s becoming more clear that the five-day promise could be implemented. At this point, only one of 39 bills that the president has signed has been posted for five days in advance. (The DTV Delay Act was actually not held five days after formal presentment, but the White House posted it after the final version had passed Congress.) Twenty-four other bills have been held at the White House five days or more before the President has signed them. They just haven’t been posted.

To repeat, over 60% of the legislation coming out of Congress waits five days for the president’s signature as a matter of course. The only thing preventing implementation of the president’s promise as to these bills is the White House’s inexplicable reluctance to do what it says it will do.

At this point, it’s worth repeating that I can’t find the bills online at Whitehouse.gov. I have searched the site high and low, even entering URLs where I would guess they might be. I find it hard to believe that no bills have been posted under even the modified promise given to the Times late last month. I will happily post a correction and apology if there is a corner of Whitehouse.gov that I failed to explore. (If bills are so deeply hidden, that’s a problem, too, of course.)

I’m fond of joking that the “Sunlight Before Signing” promise is a golden opportunity because I can write 100 blog posts over the next few years without thinking a single original thought. But voters and me are one thing — if the White House is breaking a promise to the New York Times, that could be serious!

For the record, here are the pieces of legislation signed by the president so far:

Public Law Date Presented Date Signed Posted (Linked) for Comment? Five Days?
P.L. 111-2, The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 1/28/2009 1/29/2009 1/29/2009 No
P.L. 111-3, The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 2/4/2009 2/4/2009 2/1/2009 No
P.L. 111-4, The DTV Delay Act 2/9/2009 2/11/2009 2/5/2009 Yes and No
P.L. 111-5, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 2/16/2009 2/17/2009 2/13/2009 No
P.L. 111-6, Making further continuing appropriations for fiscal year 2009, and for other purposes 3/6/2009 3/6/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-7, A bill to designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 2105 East Cook Street in Springfield, Illinois, as the “Colonel John H. Wilson, Jr. Post Office Building” 2/26/09 3/9/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-8, The Omnibus Appropriations Act, 2009 3/11/2009 3/11/2009 3/6/2009 No
P.L. 111-9, To extend certain immigration programs 3/18/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-10, To provide for an additional temporary extension of programs under the Small Business Act and the Small Business Investment Act of 1958, and for other purposes 3/19/2009 3/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-11, The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 3/30/2009 No
P.L. 111-12, The Federal Aviation Administration Extension Act of 2009 3/24/2009 3/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-13, The Generations Invigorating Volunteerism and Education Act 4/20/2009 4/21/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-14, To designate the United States courthouse under construction at 327 South Church Street, Rockford, Illinois, as the “Stanley J. Roszkowski United States Courthouse” 4/14/2009 4/23/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-15, The Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program Act of 2009 4/14/2009 4/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-16, The Statutory Time-Periods Technical Amendments Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-17, A joint resolution providing for the appointment of David M. Rubenstein as a citizen regent of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution 4/28/2009 5/7/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-18, A bill to repeal section 10(f) of Public Law 93-531, commonly known as the “Bennett Freeze” 4/28/2009 5/8/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-19, The Civil Rights History Project Act of 2009 4/30/2009 5/12/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-20, The Protecting Incentives for the Adoption of Children with Special Needs Act of 2009 5/5/2009 5/15/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-21, The FERA 5/19/2009 5/20/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-22, The Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-23, The Weapon Systems Acquisition Reform Act of 2009 5/21/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-24, The Credit Cardholders’ Bill of Rights Act of 2009 5/20/2009 5/22/2009 5/14/2009 No
P.L. 111-25, The Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission Act 5/21/2009 6/2/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-26, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 12877 Broad Street in Sparta, Georgia, as the “Yvonne Ingram-Ephraim Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-27, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 300 East 3rd Street in Jamestown, New York, as the “Stan Lundine Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-28, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 103 West Main Street in McLain, Mississippi, as the “Major Ed W. Freeman Post Office” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-29, To designate the facility of the United States Postal Service located at 3245 Latta Road in Rochester, New York, as the “Brian K. Schramm Post Office Building” 6/9/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-30, The Antitrust Criminal Penalty Enhancement and Reform Act of 2004 Extension Act 6/19/2009 6/19/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-31, The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act 6/16/2009 6/22/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-32, The Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2009 6/19/2009 6/24/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-33, The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009 6/16/2009 6/26/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-34, To designate the Federal building and United States courthouse located at 306 East Main Street in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, as the “J. Herbert W. Small Federal Building and United States Courthouse” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-35, To designate the Federal building located at 799 United Nations Plaza in New York, New York, as the “Ronald H. Brown United States Mission to the United Nations Building” 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-36, The Webcaster Settlement Act of 2009 6/19/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-37, The Veterans’ Compensation Cost-of-Living Adjustment Act of 2009 6/25/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-38, A bill to provide additional personnel authorities for the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction 6/24/2009 6/30/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-39, To make technical corrections to the Higher Education Act of 1965, and for other purposes 6/26/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a
P.L. 111-40, A bill to award a Congressional Gold Medal to the Women Airforce Service Pilots (“WASP”) 6/24/2009 7/1/2009 No n/a

One Web Site: $18,000,000

A company called Smartronix will get $18,000,000 to redesign Recovery.gov, the federal Web site intended to track where federal Recovery Act spending goes.

The government purchased technology for a similar site (with a somewhat smaller scope), USASpending.gov, from the non-profit group OMB Watch for only $600,000. A private company already provides information on Recovery Act spending to the public for free.

[Update: A link formerly just above at “for free” has been removed. To learn the unusual circumstances of the removal, check out: Copyright Law’s Abuse.]

I wrote here enthusiastically about the plans of the Sunlight Foundation to go after this contract, saying “[T]he contract award will now be subject to public scrutiny. Value-for-dollar to the taxpayer will be easily discernible, and that will raise the political risks of awarding the contract based on cronyism or go-with-whatchya-knowism. Transparency in all things.”

Sunlight did not ultimately bid. Instead, it took some lessons about the government contracting business. The transparency I wrote about materialized, though, and we can take a lesson, too: The federal government will pay $18,000,000 for one freaking Web site.