June 3, 2009

Recovery data trickles into USASpending.gov

Despite the significant delay in stimulus bill disclosure, there is some encouraging news for transparency activists.

USASpending.gov, the website created to track federal grants and contracts and originally proposed by Sens. Barack Obama and Tom Coburn, has begun including some relevant data on "federal awards" that have been given out to contractors.

Anything interesting from this limited release of data? You bet.

Of the top five Recovery Act contractors on USAspending.gov, which collectively account for 98 percent of the contracts awarded thus far, three are listed in POGO’s Contractor Misconduct Database for recent violations. Two of them, CH2M Hill Companies, Ltd and Ut-Battelle, have entries from the past year for the very same work at the very same place where they were just awarded new Recovery Act contracts. (The third company was URS Corporation.)

Ut-Battelle, in particular, was cited by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General for incurring “unreasonable” costs at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 2008, and yet it received a $73 million contract under the Recovery Act for continued operations at Oak Ridge. The three companies, despite their track records, received $1.3 billion of the $1.8 billion in Recovery Act contracts, or about 75 percent of all the Recovery Act contracts which have been awarded to date. (Emphasis original)

Unsurprisingly, these companies spent generously on campaign donations and lobbying expenses.

While nothing described above is illegal, it is far from excusable. And it's good that voters now have easy access to this data.

OMB Watch nails it:

These limited examples reinforce why transparency and access to good spending information is so crucial. While it is wonderful that USAspending.gov has added a feature to allow subdividing Recovery Act spending, there is no reason this information should not also be available on Recovery.gov right now. There is also no reason federal spending and performance data should not inform future contract and grant decisions.