Yesterday, the Department of Treasury launched an open beta website of the next generation of USASpending.gov, the main public portal for information about the government’s spending habits.
The update is mandated as part of the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act — the DATA Act — but the deadline isn’t until May 2017. By launching its beta now, the Treasury is signaling a clear intent to conduct an open and collaborative process to ensure that the final product is the best possible resource for federal spending data users.
Right now the site is light on data and functionality, but that’s the point. According to the department:
Instead of building the future USAspending.gov and getting feedback from users after the launch, Treasury took the innovative approach of launching OpenBeta.USAspending.gov in November 2015 to gather your recommendations and suggestions on the features you want in the final iteration.
The agency has set up a number of feedback mechanisms and appear prepared to roll out new features as they are ready and as freshly standardized data starts flowing from agencies.
The site does come prestocked with potential future versions of a search functionality as well as examples of a Contracts Explorer and a Grants Explorer that could be created with spending data. These should kickstart conversation and encourage stakeholders to share their own ideas.
For those looking to provide feedback, the site has two convenient avenues to do so. First, a standard webform allows users to submit ideas. Much more exciting, however, is the community page. The message board format should encourage collaboration and consistent communication with a low barrier to entry — it’s not even necessary to create an account to post a comment.
The beta website won’t replace the existing functionality on USASpending.gov until 2017, but it should serve as an evolving and accessible opportunity for the public to weigh in on this vital transparency portal. Launching so early in the process is a sign that Treasury has learned some lessons from previous efforts in this area and is committed to a truly collaborative process. We look forward to watching the site as it evolves towards its final form.