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Maryland is tops at tracking stimulus spending

The state is a pioneer in using Web maps to track government spending and performance.

By Robert L. Mitchell
November 2, 2009 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley doesn't have to guess where federal stimulus funds will do the most good in his state: He can see for himself -- and his constituents can, too.

The state has literally mapped out where every dollar from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) is going. The data is displayed at StateStat, a Web site that pulls data from a geographic information system (GIS) that O'Malley's administration originally developed in 2007 to track the performance of state government.

With StateStat in place, "we were well equipped to track those recovery dollars and do so in an open, transparent and measurable way," O'Malley says.

Maryland's pioneering work with GIS and ARRA reporting caught the eye of Earl Devaney, who, as chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, pushed for GIS-based reporting on the federal government's new Web site. That site, which relaunched on Sept. 28, uses similar technology to add spending maps. "This is one of the most important features on the whole Web site," says spokesman Edward Pound.

Visitors to Maryland's StateStat Web site can see the total amount of stimulus dollars coming into the state and the counties that are receiving those funds. Projects show up on maps as pushpin-style icons that vary in size with the spending within each area.

Building on templates originally developed for Maryland by GIS vendor Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. (ESRI), some other states have begun using the same tools to build their own reporting Web sites.

Ranked No. 1

What makes Maryland unique is the breadth and depth of data it provides, says Phil Mattera, research director at Good Jobs First, a Washington-based nonprofit research center that has ranked state Web sites based on how well they disclose expenditures from the $787 billion stimulus bill. Maryland is ranked No. 1.

At StateStat, visitors can view spending within specific categories, such as transportation and housing. From there, they can drill down to see the exact locations and details of specific programs and projects. In some areas, such as transportation, they can see who got the contracts, the winning bid, how far along the project is and the number of jobs each project will create. "Maryland is one of the few that has been doing that," says Mattera.

What's particularly powerful about StateStat is its potential to show visually whether spending matches up with the areas of greatest need. Visitors can view maps with overlays that show both spending data and need levels for every area. The need overlays might include regional unemployment or foreclosure rates, for example. "The maps show us where the problems are and therefore where the opportunities are," O'Malley says. Most states aren't doing that yet, Mattera notes.

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