Recovery.gov gears up for a makeover, and while the official announcement has not yet been released, this initial announcement looks a bit troubling. In our stimulus feed guidelines, we have made the point that the recovery architecture (here our first reaction, more detailed feedback, and our comments about the updated guidance) has to look at the bigger picture, and not just at the web site.
The main issue with the overhaul is that it seems to focus just on the site, probably in an effort to provide open access to stimulus data. However, if transparency is also a goal of this initiative, then the whole recovery reporting architecture must be designed and implemented in sync. In particular, there must be open and accessible data flows from the reporting entities into the recovery site. The feed approach described in the initial and updated guidance (which as of today is still not enforced, not supported by any tools or tests, and not used by the recovery site itself) would be the best way to ensure open access and transparency. The announcement reads as if recovery.gov will become another silo that is fed by opaque processes, so that it essentially is the very opposite of transparent.
For a truly transparent and forward-thinking architecture, a federal feed cloud would be the best approach. It would provide a hosted infrastructure for agencies to manage and publish their reporting (if they are not hosting their own feeds), provide tools and tests to make sure data is being published according to the guidelines, and would be a completely transparent way of how everybody could access stimulus reporting data. Recovery.gov would just be one site using this data, and others could build their own sites, if they wanted to.
In theory it is possible that the overhaul could be used to create such a transparent reporting architecture. In practice, however, the challenging deadline and the absence of specifically enforcing a feed-centered architecture make it likely that the new site will have the same intransparent data flows as the current site (which is still being fed by reports being emailed to the OMB, not by the few feeds that are actually available).
Our hope is that the overhaul process will clearly and cleanly separate the reporting architecture, which should be feed-based and fully transparent, and the publication of that data on recovery.gov. The new Recovery.gov should not be based on an intransparent submission process, but instead should finally implement the forward-looking feed architecture mandated in the initial and the updated guidance documents.
It is still not too late to design and implement such an architecture, and it could set a very important precedent for how formerly internal and opaque data flows inside of the government become accessible and transparent.
Devaney's office [ the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board ] received $84 million in stimulus funds, the majority of which will be used for the site maintenance and redesign. It would be an excellent use of stimulus money to design and implement an architecture that not only realized the immediate goal of providing transparent stimulus reporting, but also served as a demonstration of how openness and transparency can be implemented based on simple and accessible standards, leading the way for other e-government initiatives. Spending the money on implementing a silo with a polished interface would not only miss and important opportunity, it would also ignore the requirements set forth in the forward-looking guidance documents. It will be very interesting to read the full set of requirements for the recovery.gov overhaul when they are published.