USASpending.gov—a re-launch of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006’s fedspending.gov site—contains all contracts (stimulus-related or not) issued by the federal government and recently introduced a function to sort out contracts funded by the stimulus, but similar information does not exist for federal grants or contacts awarded by states. Recovery.gov links to the recovery sites for individual states, which often contain more information about specific projects than the federal sites. Trouble is, information reported on states’ recovery sites isn’t standardized, and the Web sites’ quality varies—the California site is all bells and whistles, for example, with an interactive map that beats Recovery.gov in terms of flash, while the state of Michigan has a very bare-bones site. Some cities also have recovery Web sites that explain how they’re using stimulus funds.
In general, the federal sources give a top-down view on where stimulus money is being committed, while the state and local Web sites have more detail on individual projects being funded or are proposed.
Recovery.org aggregates information on the economic stimulus from various government sources as well as information published in the local press. It’s run as a public service by Onvia. The site’s database includes projects that are approved, as well as projects still awaiting approval. Since Onvia makes use of various federal, state and local sources, it is able to capture projects that are not required to be reported through the official channels, such as projects that are below the second tier reporting requirement. You can filter projects by state, county or project type, and includes a description, project owner, location, value, estimated jobs, category, market sector, and contact information (where available); there are also interactive graphs and maps of aggregate data. You can also comment on whether projects are “useful” or not.
Despite the level of detail available on Recovery.org, some experts advise caution when using the data as the information included in their database is aggregated from a variety of sources outside of the official reporting channels required for the stimulus.
Again, the amount of data and how sophisticated a fashion the information is presented varies widely from Web site to Web site; it’s probably a good idea first to check out ProPublica’s chart of the different state trackers. (ProPublica’s Christopher Flavelle’s HuffingtonPost “piece”, “Stimulus numbers: Transparent? Yes. Intelligible? No.” sums up pretty well the problems in navigating amid all these data. Even with all the data, these maps are just a starting point —figuring out whether there is any kind of story takes further poking around. For regular folks, the maps can be seen as something of a comforter—it’s good to know that there’s transparency, even if you don’t know quite what to do with the data once you have it.
Propublica’s stimulus coverage includes analytical reporting on stimulus-related issues and a database of stimulus projects. The “Adopt a Stimulus” involves aggregating transportation projects that are funded by the stimulus and approved by the Department of Transportation (DOT). The database contains all transportation projects, administered on the state and federal levels, which are approved by the DOT. The database includes a description of the project, location, funds allocated, project type, and a project number. Users can search for the projects by state or county and can volunteer to report on (or “adopt”) individual projects. ProPublica has plans to expand the scope of this project beyond transportation projects in the future. They also have a page that lists the tax cuts included in the stimulus, which has a description of the tax cut and its estimated cost, as well as an interactive graphic which shows the dollar per capita cost to the government of the different tax breaks by state.
Stimulus Watch is an independent, volunteer-run site that aggregates all the projects that were proposed for funding at the 2009 meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. These projects have not necessarily been approved for funding nor are they necessarily part of the economic stimulus, but rather they represent how mayors would like to see money spent in their towns. Users can search for projects by state and locality and comment on the project. But the site doesn’t include projects that are actually funded, or those that are candidates for funding under the Recovery Act. It does, however, provide journalists insight into the priorities of local officials, which can be related to stimulus spending.