Retooled Recovery.gov site praised, panned

Version 2.0 features new interactive maps and other features

Editor's note: This story was updated at 5:30 p.m.

The upgraded version of the Recovery.gov Web site for tracking spending under the economic stimulus law gets mostly positive reviews, but has disappointed some visitors.

The retooled site, sponsored by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, went online on Sept. 28 with new mapping features, a new layout and more prominent displays of key spending data.

One addition is a large, interactive map; users can click on geographic areas, or enter locations or zip codes, to display information on contracts, grants and loans awarded.

The map has data gathered from federal agencies and on Oct. 30, it will publish state and local data on contract awards.

“I think it’s a good step in the right direction. They have clearly changed the front end in a way that is much more citizen-savvy,” said Eric Gillespie, chief information officer for Onvia., a private company that sponsors the Recovery.org Web site, which also tracks that spending in detail. Onvia’s site, which it created as a demonstration project, has gotten national attention as an example of ways to improve government transparency.

Meanwhile, the retooled Recovery.gov Web site is giving Recovery.org a fresh dose of competition, according to blogger Declan McCullagh.

“In the last few months, the federal government's stimulus-tracking Web site has been assailed by critics who argued that a private sector effort called Recovery.org has been doing a better job with fewer errors. With a relaunch this week of the official Recovery.gov site, the Feds are now competitive again,” McCullagh wrote in his blog on Sept. 28.

However, the site still has shortcomings, according to Craig Jennings, federal fiscal policy analyst for OMB Watch, a watchdog group.

Although its mapping tools and download features are a welcome improvement, Recovery.gov’s federal agency spending data has flaws. It lacks reconciliation with data on other aggregate sites such as USASpending.gov; doesn't have details on noncompetitive contract spending; has gaps in data, and lacks searchability for the data in the downloadable data section, Jennings wrote in his blog Sept 28.

The new Web site is “less than revolutionary,” Jennings wrote. “The Recovery Board has added a new deck on the back of the house and put in some great landscaping, but the real questions remain: Have they repaired the foundation and fixed the plumbing?”

Ed Pound, director of communications for Recovery.gov, said the site is not yet complete, and will continue to add features and functionality.

“We have never represented to the American public that the Recovery.gov Web site is finished,” Pound said today. “Indeed, we have told those who care to listen that Recovery.gov is a work in progress. We believe when we are finished, this will be a transformative government Web site that will give the American people the transparency and accountability they deserve." No date has been set for completion, he added.

The stimulus law oversight board hired contractor Smartronix for $9.5 million to redesign and construct the new site, install hardware and software infrastructure, provide hosting and operations, improve data storage, enhance the content management system and offer additional support, according to a statement from the oversight board’s media office.  The board is considering renewing Smartronix’ contract for $17.9 million through January 2014.

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