If the news from Washington tends to give you indigestion more often than it makes you feel good, here’s a story that should warm your heart with something other than heartburn. Eagle Eye Publishers, a for-profit research and consulting firm in northern Virginia did something recently that’s distinctly odd behavior in the business world – helping a non-profit prepare a free website that, at least at some levels, competes with their own subscription-only database designed for high-budget customers.
One of Eagle Eye’s premier products is their database of government contracts – a much cleaned-up version, and vastly easier to navigate, than the federal government’s own website.
When the DC non-profit OMB Watch was handed a Sunlight grant and given the job of coming up with a searchable database of government contracts in six months, they found so many problems – and so much missing data – in the federal government’s contract database, they contacted Eagle Eye and bought the data from them instead. They negotiated a low enough price to make it feasible, and Eagle Eye kept an active hand in the process as the data was massaged, enhanced, enlarged, and eventually turned into what you’ll find on the new FedSpending.org website.
Granted, Eagle Eye’s paid database offers many options for charting, graphing and generating specialized reports that aren’t available at FedSpending – bells and whistles that are of great interest to its paid subscribers. But still, they were helping set up a new website that provides the essential data to everyone for free.
I cornered Paul Murphy, Eagle Eye’s president, at yesterday’s press conference unveiling the OMB Watch database and asked him point blank why they would do such a thing. He smiled. He sighed. The first thing he said was, “Well, we all came from the non-profit world before we started the company.”
They liked the project, he explained. They very much liked the idea of making the contracting data free to a vastly wider audience, and after thoroughly talking it over they decided that in the end it wouldn’t be a threat. Eagle Eye provides enough other services – seriously high-end consulting services – that they felt their business plan wouldn’t be harmed by making so much of their data free to the public.
Bottom line, they decided that the wider exposure the contract data would get would help widen the circle of people who would take an interest in the data. And that could draw more people to the company’s other offerings, not less.
It’s a gamble, to be sure. But it’s one that would certainly not be the default setting for any business – which makes Eagle Eye stand out from the crowd. Without their assistance, the project could never have been completed on time, and the data wouldn’t have been as complete or as clean.
So three cheers, a tip of the hat, and a gold star for Eagle Eye Publishers. All of us who’ll be using that database in the coming years owe this exceptional company a debt of gratitude.