This is the fourth installment in a series of columns by Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney on the lessons he has learned from his work on the Recovery Board, which oversees the Recovery program.
Good government can mean a lot of different things to different people but to the 13-member Recovery Board the idea pretty much boils down to this: Are we delivering the services that you, the taxpayers, expect us to deliver?
In our case, those services are transparency and accountability. That means we must track spending by Recovery Act recipients and post clear data on Recovery.gov while providing robust oversight so that your money isn’t stolen or mismanaged.
Meeting those objectives takes a dedicated staff, the ability to think ahead, and a willingness to use and adapt new technologies available in today’s ever-changing Internet world.
Which brings me to the point of this essay on one of the lessons I have learned: New technologies—specifically cloud computing and geospatial mapping—play a critical role in delivering transparency and accountability.
That lesson became readily apparent to me and the other Inspectors General on the Recovery Board while we were developing version 2.0 of Recovery.gov in the summer of 2009. We began studying the benefits of the cloud and also met with outside experts on geospatial mapping.
After a thorough review by our crack technical team, Recovery.gov became the first government-wide enterprise to move to the cloud infrastructure in April 2010. Cloud efficiencies saved taxpayers a bundle. As resources also were freed up, the Board was able to focus more intently on delivering rich data. Security for Recovery.gov was also enhanced, and we were able to redirect computer equipment and software to the accountability program, allowing for improved oversight of recipient spending.
Meanwhile, geospatial mapping has proven to be a big plus for the Board’s transparency efforts, drawing widespread applause from users of Recovery.gov. These maps display Recovery award and spending data in a multitude of ways that greatly enhance the user experience.
Visit our Map Gallery and you’ll see what I mean. The interactive “comparison maps’’ allow users to compare Recovery spending with specific areas of needs. For instance, you can compare where Recovery funds have gone with a map of unemployment. Want to compare the amount of COPS funding for community policing with the crime rate index? It’s all right there in the Map Gallery.
It’s also easy to find projects in your own neighborhood. Just enter your zip code on the home page and after the map pops up on your screen, click on one of the dots representing an award and find the name of the recipient, the amount of the award, the project status, and the number of jobs funded.
The Board is not standing pat. There will be more improvements to the website before the end of the year, including a redesigned home page that will be more user-friendly. We also are holding a national online dialogue seeking the best ideas on new technologies and strategies that we could develop or utilize to do an even better job of preventing waste, fraud and mismanagement in the Recovery program.
I’ve always been a major proponent of transparency and accountability in government. Innovative technologies used by the Board have produced a more open government that gives you vital information and protects your tax dollars.