July 23, 2009

Recovery.gov hams up stimulus information

You may have caught news earlier this week of a surprising entry on Recovery.gov. Listed on the site was a $1.19 million contract for "2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED."

To the casual reader this makes it sound like the government paid close to $600,000 per pound for your garden-variety pork product. As delicious as ham can be, this would have bordered on excessive.

To the relief of government watchers, it was a poor description that led to the confusion. The contract was actually for 760,000 lbs. of ham that came in 2 lb. packages.

But this incident (in which the USDA went so far as to put out a press release) is actually the symptom of a much larger problem.

Five months into the stimulus plan, Recovery.gov has yet to become the comprehensive clearinghouse of stimulus information its backers claimed it would be. There is some data on the site, it still lags behind privately run efforts, such as Recovery.org (Update 2014-05-19: Recovery.org no longer tracks stimulus payouts), in getting out information.

Is there any reason why contract descriptions need to be so short and curt as to obscure their meaning? This administration should use that description box to explain — for each and every item on the site — exactly how its existence will benefit the American people. Of course, that tends to be pretty hard when no one actually read the bill.

(Thanks Sunlight Foundation)