Recovery.gov relaunch puts stimulus spending on the map

Want to know where federal stimulus dollars are being spent in your state, your county, your town or on your street?

Recovery.gov, the government's official Web site for tracking federal stimulus spending, relaunched today with a trove of new data that lets visitors see -- literally -- where the money is going by navigating through a series of maps. The site is managed by The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RATB), which was created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to provide transparency in reporting how stimulus funds are used.

The new maps, created using tools and templates developed by  geographic information systems (GIS) vendor ESRI, will roll up data from all 50 states to show where federal contracts, grants and loans are going and who's receiving the money. Users can drill down to see spending for their own state, county or locality.

The GIS-based system "Will open people's eyes to the power of mapping as a way to communicate government policy. The vision is that people will be able to see their government's decisions and the consequences of those decisions," says Jack Dangermond, founder and CEO at ESRI.

"This is one of the most important features on this whole Web site. People are going to want to see what's in their area. They want to see what's in their zip code. You can show the data by state, county, zip code and congressional district," says RATB spokesperson Ed Pound.

Recovery.gov lets users see the aggregate spending in their state (box at bottom left), filter by whether the spending is for a contract, grant, or loan; by issuing agency; and by amount (box at right) and then zoom in on a specific item for further analysis. Here the user is looking at the State of Marlyand.

Recovery.gov filtered view

(click image for larger version)

In the screen image below, the user has zoomed in on one area of Maryland, and clicked on a push-pin dot representing a contract. The name of the contractor, contract amount and a few other details appear. Clicking a 'more info' link brings up a pop-up window with even more detail.

Revovery.gov drill down view

(click image for larger version) 

While individual states have been experimenting with the use of GIS for tracking and reporting stimulus spending, the level of detail and the use of GIS to visually present the data for a spending program of this size is unprecedented.

Recovery.gov is more than just reports: RATB is making the raw data available as a series of download files in XML format. Users with their own analytical tools, from Excel to GIS servers, will be able to download the geo-coded data and mix it with other data to spot trends and do their own tracking.

The data in this go-round is less than complete, however, and its accuracy will only be as good as the data from state and local agencies reporting in. The data available online today comes from federal agencies only; recipient reporting data should be loaded into the system by the end of October, says Pound. That data will come from state and local government, contractors, nonprofits and other entities on the receiving end. Each state must upload the data entry using a Web browser, or as Excel or XML-formatted files. "On the 15th we'll display the data received on direct federal contracts," Pound says.

Recovery.gov also plans on adding data overlays on the spending data that show how spending in each area lines up with needs (such as unemployment data by area) and possibly subsequent impact of the spending program (change in unemployment rate). "I know we'll be displaying jobs data we get. But how far down in the weeds we're going to go I can't tell you right now," Pound says.

For example, some states have data on actual project bid amounts. "I don't think we'll get into bids," Pound says, but visitors will be able to see the amount of each contract, contractor, subcontractor and vendor names, the location, and the number of jobs expected to be created.

Recovery.gov will be updated quarterly, Pound says. The next set of updates is due from the states on January 1, 2010 and will be released online by January 10th. But Pound says new data types and features will continue to be added as they're finished. "We're developing this in sprints," he says.

Related stories:

FREE Computerworld Insider Guide: Five IT certifications that won’t break you
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies