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FederalReporting.gov: Recovery.gov's Dirty Little Secret

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FederalReporting.gov: Recovery.gov's Dirty Little Secret

The press would have you believe that Recovery.gov 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 Recovery.gov'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 Recovery.gov 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, Recovery.gov only does half of what a lot of people believe it to do. Recovery.gov'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 Recovery.gov. That all goes on at Recovery.gov's less pretty step-sister: FederalReporting.gov

FederalReporting.gov 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, FederalReporting.gov is the source of the data Recovery.gov eventually displays. So if you're looking at Recovery.gov 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 FederalReporting.gov. According to FederalReporting.gov, the process looks like this:

Looking into FederalReporting.gov is a lot tougher than Recovery.gov. Not a lot of light has shone upon this website. In terms of costs-- the only thing I can find on usaspending.gov 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 federalreporting.gov? For instance, how is data getting being accepted by FederalReporting.gov saying that jobs are being created in Arizona's 15th District when Arizona's 15th district doesn't exist? Shouldn't FederalReporting.gov 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 Recovery.gov, but on FederalReporting.gov. Garbage In, Garbage Out, they say-- and while Recovery.gov 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 FederalReporting.gov cost?

  2. How many contracts exist that help Federal Agencies and recipients report back to FederalReporting.gov, 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?