The Rise of Recovery.gov and the Virtuous Cycle of Transparency Innovation

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In the short 30 days since the President signed the Recovery Act (aka Stimulus Bill) into law and Recovery.gov launched:

  • 26 of 28 federal agencies currently handling stimulus dollars have launched websites at identical “/recovery” URLs (example: http://hhs.gov/recovery)
  • 83 identically formatted .xls weekly reports were filed by agencies and are downloadable by reporting agency (generally 3 per agency)
  • 42 states have launched their own recovery-related web sites with several adopting the “/recovery” meme (for example: http://www.maine.gov/recovery)
  • 3,900 hits-per-second loads have been reported for Recovery.gov

These early stats suggest our federal government is headed for the Web 2.0 big leagues in tracking stimulus dollars. Even better, they suggest everyone else is fielding franchise teams and swinging for the fences. No doubt we are going to see a number of strike outs as different federal, state, and local authorities learn to communicate and play together using web-based protocols and practices. But we are also going to see some exciting home runs and grand slams, too.


Recovery.gov—and OMB’s requirement that agencies use the web for accountability disclosure—has launched a regular web-based ecosystem of activity with a healthy opportunity for competition and transparency one-upsmanship. This kind of activity has the look and feel of a virtuous cycle of innovation that we’ve see before on the web are seeing again, for example, with twitter and it’s spin offs or the explosion of activity in the iPhone’s App Store). Here are a few more data points:

So, when I finally started to explore the Recovery sites, I grew fond of the incompleteness found in OMB’s 62 page detailed guidance memo to agencies. Inside the typical Washington-ese of the memo was a basic message that came from the Recovery Act and OMB amplified. That message was: “Use the Web, stupid.” Stating this in 2009 is very different that stating in 2004 or even 2006 (when Sunlight Foundation launched). In the post-USASpending.gov, post Obama-campaign 2009 world, all the young professionals grew up on the web. The web-requirements of the Obama administration and it’s new, back-on-the-job CIO Vivek Kundra (a 30-something year old himself) essentially unleashed the web talent inside government agencies that had been shackled by the chains of the way things were always done. Voilà! In 30 days since the Act became law, more than 70 government web “sites” have been launched. (And a lot of non-government recovery sites, too, which I’m not mentioning). Where do we ever see things happen that quickly…except on the web?

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  • Greg Elin

    Mike Gifford: Thanks for the Canadian link! The web grew by people being able to view source and emulate what they felt work. If other countries are following this meme, then it is really starting to go viral.

    I wouldn’t be surprised to see a Drupal distribution with recovery features before the year is out. It’s a great idea, especially for local government, or creating sites dedicated to a particular Recovery projects, like a bridge improvement.

    I think the 70 web sites I described above are functionally similar in the same way different corporate websites are functionally similar. Also, the web “sites” are often really a set of cohesive pages on an existing site. I’m not really sure if the USDA and DoD could have easily combined their recovery “sites” or if forcing Colorado and Maryland to both use a Drupal distribution with specific modules would have saved taxpayers dollars.

  • It’s also sponsored recovery plans in other countries too. Here in Canada it’s – http://www.actionplan.gc.ca/

    What I’m most disappointed by myself is that they created this framework for sharing information, but didn’t distribute it. I would have loved to see a Drupal distribution for the recovery.gov site that could help foster quicker, richer exchange of information.

    It would have also helped to discourage 70 functionally similar web sites being independently built with government tax dollars. A little sharing goes a long way.

    Maybe next time though.

  • What an interesting article. It seems appropriate that these office would approach web strategies aggressively. After all, wasn’t Facebook largely how Obama garnered so much support during his campaign.

    It’s scary though, because people tend to believe anything they see/read on the web. They adopt a “it must be true” attitude to what they read on the internet, and often do little or no due diligence.

    Excellent article, thank you for sharing.