Government can be a mysterious institution. Indeed, the pathway to understanding how your tax dollars are being spent can be a very difficult journey, much like trying to find your way out of the ancient catacombs.
That’s one reason why transparency is so vital in an open government. You, the taxpayer, have every right to know how your hard-earned money is being used. Government officials must be held accountable. With that in mind, we at the Recovery Board spend our days trying to make it easier for you to get a handle on spending in the Recovery program.
Congress mandated no less. In creating the Recovery Act last year, lawmakers directed the Board to build a “user-friendly’’ website that would provide the utmost transparency in government spending. This meant posting readable, timely, and accurate data that would keep citizens well-informed on projects funded under the Recovery program. The idea is simple: Transparency encourages citizens to interact with government. That, in turn, empowers citizens and puts them squarely in the driver’s seat.
That objective has been achieved. Users can go on our website, Recovery.gov, pull out the raw data submitted by recipients, do their own analysis, and tell us when they find something that doesn’t look right. In the past year, many of you have done just that, calling our Hotline or the Inspectors General in various federal agencies to report instances of apparent fraud or waste. Transparency, you see, is the friend of the enforcer and the enemy of the fraudster. You are our Citizen IGs, and your participation has already led to many criminal investigations and audits of the use of Recovery funds.
Quite frankly, the data displayed on Recovery.gov is extraordinary. Every day, grants and contracts are handed out to Recovery recipients, including state governments, contractors, consultants, non-profits, and others. What happens to that money?
On Recovery.gov, that spending data is right at your fingertips. Go into our Maps or Download Center and find how much money was awarded to a recipient, how much was actually spent, and what type of project was funded. It’s easy to figure out how much money your state got, even how much money was funneled into your communities. Every two weeks, after recipients make corrections to their quarterly reports, we update the information.
But there’s much more than data from recipients on Recovery.gov. You can spend hours digging through government reports, audits, and information on federal agency Recovery plans. Just the other day, we posted a White Paper describing how we built Recovery.gov and its sister website, FederalReporting.gov, which initially captures data submitted by recipients. Perhaps most important, there’s a search function that provides job leads, employment tips, and access to thousands of websites managed by Recovery recipients.
Although this new level of transparency may not be obvious to casual observers, it is inspiring real transformation in the federal government. Looking at the broad picture, I do not believe the government can, or will, take a step backward. I expect future government spending to follow the Recovery Board’s model of transparency. You, the decision makers, want transparency—and you’ll get it!