Government Launches Web Site to Track IT Spending

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By Kim Hart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 30, 2009; 10:29 AM

NEW YORK, June 30 -- Vivek Kundra, the federal chief information officer, on Tuesday announced a new Web site designed to track more than $70 billion in government information technology spending, showing all contracts held by major firms within every agency.

The revamped site, USAspending.gov, was launched early this morning, and Kundra unveiled it at the Personal Democracy Forum conference on technology and politics. The site shows detailed information about whether IT contracts are being monitored and budgets being met.

"Everyone knows there have been spectacular failures when it comes to technology investments," Kundra said. "Now for the first time the entire country can see how we're spending money and give us input."

The site is the latest effort by Kundra and the Office of Management and Budget to make data about the government's projects and performance visible to the public. Citizens and Web developers can parse the data, combine it with other data sets and publish the results on Web feeds or their Facebook profiles. The data also show which contracts were won through a competitive process or in a no-bid method, which has been criticized by good-government advocates for excluding firms from business opportunities. Each prime contractor is listed as well as the status of that project; sub-contractors are not yet shown on the site.

Last month, Kundra launched Data.gov, a repository for data feeds that are publicly available but often hard to find. The site started with 47 data sets. Kundra said there are now more than 100,000.

Kundra's announcement was met with cheers and a standing ovation from the Twittering crowd at a Lincoln Center auditorium. The launch fulfills one of the promises Kundra made to Congress, in which he pledged to develop a new way of monitoring federal technology spending by the end of June.

Launching a site that makes spending practices open to the public met some opposition from the agencies' chief information officers and government contractors, some of whom were nervous about letting citizens who aren't familiar with the contracting process and technology needs of the government judge the spending decisions. Kundra said he met with every agency and dozens of company executives over the past six weeks.

"I talked to the CIO Council and saw the data change overnight," Kundra said. "It was cleaned up immediately when people realized it was going to be made public."

A federal report last year found that $30 billion worth of IT projects were not going smoothly or were in danger of failing. Kundra pointed to a $6 million project to use wireless devices in gathering information for the U.S. Census. After two years, it was deemed unsuccessful and census takers reverted to using the old paper-based system.

"We've seen this with system after system," he said. "Vendors over-promise and budgets have run away in terms of excessive spending. We're trying to provide you with the tools to let American people show us a better way."

Because the data change frequently as IT contracts change, the feeds run the risk of containing inaccuracies. Maintaining and updating the databases is also labor-intensive and some agencies say the initiative creates an enormous workload for them.

"There is a good chance you'll go through this and find places where the data is wrong, and that's okay," said Macon Phillips, new media director for the White House. "I'd rather have this up and out there than not at all."


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