$18M for one Web site? I’ll do that!

Published 12:14 am Saturday, July 11, 2009

Critics of President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package have called it a shameful waste of taxpayer dollars. That criticism should get even hotter now, as it was recently reported the government is spending $18 million to revamp the Recovery.gov Web site.

Nicholas Hoover, reporting for Information Week magazine, said the fed is paying $9.5 million to the Maryland company, Smartronix, to redesign the Recovery.gov Web site over the next seven months, and also paying up to $18 million through 2014 for upgrades and maintenance.

The Recovery.gov Web site is designed to offer transparency, allowing citizens to track exactly where the stimulus funds are being spent. It strikes me as ironic that the government needs to spend $18 million of our money, on a single Web site, so we can be able to see just how much more of our money is being wasted — I mean, used for economic recovery.

The upgrade is needed because there are problems with the existing Recovery.gov Web site and that data is often out of date or inaccurate. I know, I know, problems with a government-created product — who would have thunk it?

“Recovery.gov 2.0 will use innovative and interactive technologies to help taxpayers see where their dollars are being spent,” James A. Williams, commissioner of the General Services Administration’s Federal Acquisition Service, said in a press release announcing the award. I’m not sure truer words have ever been said.

David Freddoso, a commentary staff writer for the Washington Examiner, points out there are already several Web sites that track federal spending — and do so for far less than the $18 million Recovery.gov contract.

In his “Beltway Confidential” blog, Freddoso writes that the USASpending.gov Web site already exists to track all non-stimulus federal loans, loan guarantees, grants and contracts. The Office of Management and Budget, which maintains the site, purchased the initial code for just $600,000.

Also, the privately-funded Web site Recovery.org (note it’s “org” and not “gov”) purports to track all government contracts — including those funded by the stimulus package. The Web site was created by the Onvia Corporation, which spent approximately $110,000 to create it.

In essence, the government paying Smartronix $9.5 million to design its new Web site would be the market equivalent of you paying $47.50 for this newspaper.

It’s a great idea for Obama’s administration to inform the public of exactly when and where the stimulus money is being spent. But if it costs $18 million just to accomplish that feat, is it really worth it?