USASpendingWatch.net monitors contracts – but are its conclusions meaningful?
Apps for America 2 runner-up USASpendingWatch.net is a visually appealing and ambitious take on the mounds of data on federal contracts at USASpending.gov. It aims to create an online community where readers can flag contracts they deem interesting or suspicious–though because the data provided by the government can be vague and misleading, participants in the best position to spot impropriety might be locals with their boots on the ground.
The site is easy to navigate and chock-full of information, but its designer’s greatest obstacle may be one for which he can scarcely be faulted: The data sets being combined–the politics of local leaders and federally awarded, often competitive contracts–belie an incomplete understanding of the United States government; the author, Sven Regel, is German.
It places an emphasis on “political situations” in the locale where the contract is awarded, showing a list of governors next to the sum of federal contracting dollars going to those states–despite the fact that state leaders would likely have little involvement in the process. Even a representative’s influence–if any–over contracts administered by executive agencies would likely have more to do with committee posts than party affiliation.
The list of investigative starting points on the front page reveals the breadth of the site’s capabilities, and the below screenshot demonstrates the complex number-crunching and smooth visuals that are incorporated. My only concern is whether the numbers appropriately hint at real-world inferences. Congrats, Sven!