The U.S. government launched USASpending.gov, a Web site to track billions of dollars in government information technology spending. It’s an official effort to be more accountable.
The dashboard was unveiled at the Personal Democracy Forum ’09 conference in New York by Obama’s Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra. While presenting information about the site, Kundra was careful to note that his team wasn’t “sitting around and waiting to get it perfect” and that it was better to get it out as a beta version sooner rather than later, with upgrades and improvements planned “early and often.”
The site’s own tagline explains it pretty well, “A journey towards greater Transparency and Accountability. Analyze and Evaluate a portfolio of over 7000 Information Technology investments.” Basically it gives the general public oversight at a granular level of the key bits of federal IT spending. The front page has some neat summary information, essentially headline figures, that set out the proportionate spend so far this year.
You can even download data in CSV format so you can do some of your own spreadsheet analysis, and subscribe to various data feeds via RSS so you know when new figures come in. There’s plenty of other interesting data on the site, including the ability to filter the information by agency, and view particular spending trends in the analysis section.
The U.S. government’s openness is surprising given the opacity of Bush’s presidential era. Kundra even received a standing ovation from the PDF crowd. Twitter has practically exploded with excitement over what, if you think about it, is a relatively dry and fusty government data source. Fusty it may be, but at least it’s not going to be a static one–the “Upcoming features” page reveals that there may even be widget-based software on the way, linking directly into the public database. There’s even talk of a blog, and it looks like the development team will accept public advice on how to expand the site.
It would be important for USASpending.gov to include data about federal spending that’s not restricted to information technology. That’s going to be countless more trillions of dollars, but will cover sensitive areas like defense–USASpending’s front page shows the top five government contractors this year are Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Raytheon. Lockheed’s received some $20.4 billion, but that’s cash spent on things the government would clearly prefer to remain under wraps. Still, an expansion of the IT dashboard is apparently on it’s way: when questioned Kundra suggested the IT portfolio was a good way to test out the system before expanding it to cover other government spending.