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Federal stimulus-monitoring website gets an update

Recovery.gov now allows searching by ZIP Code to look up projects in specific areas. Here's where some of the money went: The $9.5-million overhaul was paid for with stimulus funds.

September 29, 2009|Joe Markman

WASHINGTON — Since February, when the government launched a website to provide a window on the federal stimulus package, critics have been calling for a makeover.

Now they have one.

The site, unveiled today by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, was revamped through the use of $9.5 million in stimulus funds. It provides easier-to-use tools, such as a ZIP Code search that shows stimulus projects in specific communities. The government also has set up a toll-free hot line (1-877-FWA-DESK) for reporting fraud, waste and abuse.

"This is definitely a step in the right direction," said Craig Jennings, a policy analyst at OMB Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog group.

Still, the Obama administration has a ways to go to complete transparency, Jennings said. The site, Recovery.gov, does not include complete data on recipients of stimulus money, and users face significant hurdles to accessing the information that is available.

"It's more of a nose job than a face lift," Jennings said. "You need to put these data in a simple text format that people can download and use in Excel."

Cheryl Arvidson, a spokeswoman for the recovery board, said that Web developers were working to create better downloadable features, but that it was hard to judge ease of use while much of the data has yet to be posted.

The government is set to release comprehensive data about recipient contracts on Oct. 15 and will post grant and loan information Oct. 30.

"This is a transformative website for the government, and we expect it to get better," Arvidson said.

The board on Monday also unveiled an account on Twitter (RecoveryDotGov) and a You Tube video featuring Chairman Earl Devaney speaking directly to the public.

Gabriela Schneider -- a spokeswoman for the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates political transparency -- said that a revised map that contains more detailed information on agency spending is a "real positive move" but that more work remained.

"We're hoping that this is not the final version and that they are open to a creative process going forward," Schneider said.

--

joe.markman@latimes.com

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