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Tag Archive: ClearSpending

Clearspending Heads To Capitol Hill

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I'm thrilled to say that tomorrow morning Sunlight's Executive Director, Ellen Miller, will be testifying before Congress about our Clearspending project. You can read more about it here, or just check out the posts we wrote about Clearspending back when it launched.

We think that the data quality problems identified by the project are important, and we're glad to see that government is taking them seriously. Without a clear understanding of how our government spends money, it's difficult to make smart decisions about how to adjust that spending.

Having Congress pay attention to our results is a tremendous vindication for the work that Kaitlin and Kevin have done on Clearspending. I think it's also a great example of why Sunlight is such a cool place to work.Where else can your diligent SQL-wrangling turn into a chance to give sworn testimony before Congress?

And speaking of working here: as I've mentioned before, we have a couple of open positions. As you might imagine, preparing testimony has gotten in the way of reviewing resumes. But we'll be diving back into that process very soon. If you've been thinking about it, stop hesitating!

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USASpending.gov Data Quality — Still Bad?

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We at the labs have written about USASpending.gov several times now. We’ve recently been able to make use of their bulk data downloads to regularly populate some of our webapps with federal grants and contracts data. However, we also have an old snapshot of the data that we received in April of 2010. This snapshot was received on a hard drive that we shipped to USASpending engineers -- before the bulk data downloads existed. Thankfully, we don’t have to go through that process anymore. I wondered how the data has changed over the past year. Last year, the USASpending team took a lot of flak for their data quality issues. Has it been improved? I thought I’d take a look back and see how two data snapshots from April 2010 and December 2010 compare.

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What Can Recovery.gov Tell Us About Ice Cream?

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It's been a while since recovery.gov was in the headlines. ARRA money continues to go out the door, but it's safe to say the program is winding down. The Administration has been taking a quiet victory lap, including this charming video, in which Vice President Biden calls up an ice creamery in Santa Cruz that got off the ground thanks to a Recovery Act loan:

Here's a crazy idea: why don't we look up this loan on recovery.gov and see what else we can discover about it?

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Carrots and Sticks

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The response to Clearspending has been overwhelmingly positive. People seem to care about government spending data quality to an extent I never would have anticipated. It's encouraging, and it makes me think we have a real shot at getting these problems fixed.

But there are some people with a different perspective. One of them is Gunnar Hellekson, who wrote a thoughtful blog post about why he disagrees with our approach. Naturally I don't plan to write responses to everyone who disagrees with us. But we really like and respect Gunnar, and he raised some important points in his post. To wit:

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Announcing Clearspending — and Why It’s Important

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Clearspending logo

Today we're launching Clearspending -- a site devoted to our analysis of the data behind USASpending.gov. Ellen's already written about this project over on the main foundation blog, and you should certainly check out her post. But I wanted to talk about it a little bit here, too, because this project is near & dear to my heart, having grown out of work that Kaitlin, Kevin and I did together before I stepped into the role of Labs Director.

The three of us had been working with the USASpending database for a while, and in the course of that work we began to realize some discouraging things. The data clearly had some problems. We did some research and wrote some tests to quantify those problems -- that effort turned into Clearspending. The results were unequivocal: the data was bad -- really bad. Unusably bad, in fact. As things currently stand, USASpending.gov really can't be relied upon.

You can read all about it over at the Clearspending site, and I hope you will -- in addition to an analysis that looked at millions of rows of data and found over a trillion dollars' worth of messed-up spending reports, we spent a lot of time talking to officials at all levels of the reporting chain. I don't think you're likely to find a better discussion of these systems and their problems.

And make no mistake, these systems are important.

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