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Join Us's Dirty Little Secret

by's Dirty Little Secret

The press would have you believe that is an $18MM website that collects loan, contract, and grant data from recipients and shows it to end users. But that's only half true in a lot of ways.

First-- while it is true that's contract totalled $17,948,518, it isn't accurate to call it an $18,000,000 website yet-- about half of that money is in contractual options. The government agreed to spend $9,516,324 on getting the new up and running, and then asked (in the RFP) Smartronix what three years of additional hosting, maintenance and development would cost. That remaining $8,463,676 is what the government has in options to spend over the next three years if it chooses to.

But more importantly, only does half of what a lot of people believe it to do.'s job is to allow the Recovery board and taxpayers watch what's going on with the 787 Billion Dollars being spent. There's no data-collection going on at That all goes on at's less pretty step-sister: is also managed by the Recovery board, and is used by recipients of federal funds to report the data back to the government. In essence, is the source of the data eventually displays. So if you're looking at going "how the heck did all this bad data get in here in the first place?" Then the first place you want to look is at According to, the process looks like this:

Looking into is a lot tougher than Not a lot of light has shone upon this website. In terms of costs-- the only thing I can find on is that the EPA has set up a $4,000,000 helpdesk for the operation. It looks like right now there are three ways to send data into FederalReporting-- via an Excel Spreadsheet, a Web Form, and via an XML API.

The question on my mind is-- what kind of validation is being done on the data before it goes into For instance, how is data getting being accepted by saying that jobs are being created in Arizona's 15th District when Arizona's 15th district doesn't exist? Shouldn't be validating that? It seems from the documentation that all three methods of submission have a validation process. Is the validation so lax that obviously wrong data can get through?

If this screenshot is any indication, perhaps. After all, it is a 400,000 job created to report a 400,000 job. That's my kind of gig. But if the Recovery board wants to improve the way the Recovery operation is going, then the place to start isn't on, but on Garbage In, Garbage Out, they say-- and while is taking the heat for putting garbage out, FederalReporting ought to work harder at garbage intake.

Some questions I want to know the answers to:

  1. How much did cost?

  2. How many contracts exist that help Federal Agencies and recipients report back to, and how much do they cost? Here's one from [HUD] for 3,497,000

  3. More generally, in a user-contributed system like this, what are the baselines for errors one can expect? Have there been studies out there that talk about a baseline of reasonable expectations for erroneous reporting of data?