"The question we ask today is not whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works—whether it helps families find jobs at a decent wage, care they can afford, a retirement that is dignified. Where the answer is yes, we intend to move forward. Where the answer is no, programs will end. Those of us who manage the public's dollars will be held to account—to spend wisely, reform bad habits, and do our business in the light of day—because only then can we restore the vital trust between a people and their government."
As a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act the federal government is spending billions of dollars to try to stimulate the economy. With so much money being spent at once, we risk funding wasteful projects. President Obama, however, has promised to spend stimulus dollars only on critical projects.
"What we need to do is examine what are the projects where we're going to get the most bang for the buck [and] how are we going to make sure taxpayers are protected," he has said. "You know, the days of just pork coming out of Congress as a strategy, those days are over."
StimulusWatch.org was built to to help the new administration keep its pledge and to hold public officials to account. We do this by allowing you, citizens around the country with local knowledge about the proposed projects in your city, to find, discuss and rate those projects.
The Recovery Act mandated that all spending information be made public and transparent. As a result, the administration is publishing quarterly reports from funding recipients at Recovery.gov website. This official site is the source for all our data.
A note about data quality: One thing to keep in mind about the official data is that it is comprised of "recipient reports." That is, the data is not gathered and tabulated by the federal government. Instead, it is the recipients of stimulus funds who report back on a quarterly basis about how much money they received and what they did with it. So, for example, if you find a contract on this site for a construction company that says it resulted in 10 jobs saved, it is that construction company who has made the estimate.
The federal government distributes stimulus money by making three kinds of awards: contracts, grants, and loans. Contracts are X. Grants are Y. Loans Z.
The Obama White House has begun taking the first steps to keep its promise to be the most transparent and accountable administration in history. The Recovery Act makes raw spending data available precisely to make third-party sites like these possible. With initiatives like Recovery.gov and Data.gov, the administration is counting on citizens to slice and dice pubic data in innovative ways.
Stimulus Watch is also interactive in a way we don't expect to see in federal government sites. First, using voting and wikis, we are trying to gather knowledge from you about awards in your locality. Second, we allow you to discuss awards and express yourselves in a comments section for each award. To date, no federal site does this.
On an individual award page there are three things you can do:
How you vote on a project is completely up to you. Comments are there for free-wheeling discussion about the award, and you can express any opinion you'd like there. However, there are some ground rules for the wiki portion of each page.
The wiki section exists so that citizens with knowledge of the award can describe the award and place it in context. Therefore, the wiki description should be comprised of only factual assertions and be written in what Wikipedia has called a neutral point of view style. A great tutorial on neutral POV writing is available from Wikipedia.
That said, apart from a general description section on the wiki, we provide a section for "points in favor" and "points against." This is not a place to write opinions; that's what the comments are for. Instead it's a place to safely place factual assertions that tend to support one side or the other more strongly.
These rules may make it sound scary to edit the wiki, but don't worry. Anyone can edit the wiki and we encourage you to do so. There's no wrong way to do it, and anything you do can be easily reverted to a previous state. For a quick intro on how to edit a wiki page, see the Wikimedia editing guide.
On each individual award page users can vote on whether they are satisfied with the award or not. On the award page we show the results, including the number of votes cast and the percentage of votes on each side. We further rank all projects based on the vote ratio they've received. For example, 10 votes in favor and 15 against will give a project a vote ratio score of -5.
That's a good question. One would think that it would be easy to find worthy as well as less-than-efficient projects that way. Unfortunately, the data we have don't tell us how long the projects last, so it is impossible for us to list an accurate cost per job figure.
What this means, for example, is that some projects may quote a cost for a year's budget, while other projects may be for five years. So, a $1 million project that creates 5 jobs for a year is nominally the same thing as a $1 million project that creates 1 job for five years. Therefore, simply dividing a project's number of jobs created into its cost figure will not produce any meaningful data, and that is why we don't provide it. We encourage you, though, to provide factual (and hopefully sourced) cost per job information in the wiki if you have it.
Additionally, because the jobs numbers are reported by recipients, we are not confident in their quality. For more information, see this article from ProPublica.
All of the data we use is available from the Recovery.gov Download Center.
This is the second version of Stimulus Watch. The first version displayed proposed stimulus projects before the Recovery Act was passed, It allowed citizens to rate and comment on those proposed project. The old site and all its content is still available here. This current site shows stimulus funding that has actually taken place.
This site was built by volunteers and is not affiliated with any group or organization.
The project was started by Jerry Brito after Eileen Norcross pointed out to him the opportunity. Jerry herded cats on the project and contributed the graphic design, HTML and CSS. The development of the site was lead by Peter Snyder, who coded the site in PHP and MySQL and implemented the MediaWiki integration. Peter was assisted by Kevin Dwyer, who helped scrape and format the report data on the original site.
Its creators are:
Jerry Brito, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. His research has focused on government transparency and accountability, specifically how the internet can be harnessed to crowdsource the task of keeping officials accountable. You can read his paper on the subject, "Hack, Mash, and Peer: Crowdsourcing Government Transparency," (PDF) pubilshed by the Columbia Science & Technology Law Review. His personal site is jerrybrito.org.
Kevin Dwyer, Senior Computer Scientist at White Oak Technologies, Free Software contributor, and GNU/Linux zealot. Also a Pythonista, Kevin writes about the science of computers and beer at http://squareone.pheared.net.
Eileen Norcross, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University. Her research has focused on state and local budgets, economic development, and the Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. For more information, you can read her paper, "The Community Development Block Grant: Does it Work?"
Peter Snyder, contract programming. He specializes in Web 2.0 projects and Cocoa programming in Chicago, IL. He can be contacted about projects at email@example.com, or at his website www.peteresnyder.com. You can read his daily thoughts at snyderp.tumblr.com.
Again, this is an independent website that is not affiliated or connected to any organization including the developers' employers.