There’s no way to know exactly how much money will be spent below the second-tier reporting requirement, but an expert from Onvia—a private company that tracks federal spending for companies interested in bidding on federal contracts—estimates that as much as half of the stimulus money may be allocated to third-tier recipients and beyond. The federal government will also only capture projects after they have been approved for funding, and there really aren’t any defined reporting standards for projects that are being considered for funding. This potentially leaves big holes in the public’s knowledge about the projects that are being funded.

Government sources:

Recovery.gov, run by Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, is the official government stimulus spending tracker. The Web site tracks funds that have been committed, but not yet allocated, spending by category, state, and agency, with some information on the specific projects that have actually been funded. The Recovery Act requires that all first and second-tier recipients report their spending, information scheduled to be posted this month. Some groups are pressuring the government to require reporting at all levels, regardless of tier, but it is unclear at this point if the government will require reporting at this level of detail.

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.

Non-government sources:

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.

Jaimie Dougherty is a graduate student at Columbia's School for International and Public Affairs.