GIS offers visual tour of where your stimulus funds are going

Do you wonder exactly where all of that federal stimulus money is being spent? GIS tools let you literally map out where in the U.S. those American Recovery and Reinvestment Act dollars are landing - and where the need is greatest.

So, how well do they match up? The 12 maps in the White House's Roadmap to Recovery report show where the funds are going, but those need overlays aren't presented. GIS tools can provide graphical accountability. Wouldn't it would be nice, for example, to see an overlay of unemployment data on this map showing where ARRA money is being spent to hire youth?

ARRA Spending Map: Youth Jobs

Much of the money is going to California, the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic states. How does that match up with the need?

How about an overlay of the uninsured on the map showing where money is being spent to provide increased access to health care? An overlay of crime rates on the map showing where the COPS program is putting more police on the streets? With GIS and access to the right data sets, you can do that - if the detailed data is being reported back.

Last month I spoke with Jack Dangermond, GIS pioneer and president of ESRI, about his company’s role in providing tools for mapping out where stimulus dollars are being spent. In a fascinating interview, Dangermond discussed the history and the future of GIS in a Web 2.0 world. But somehow our side discussion about stimulus spending hit the cutting room floor. Here's what he had to say.

A recently published government report uses GIS to show exactly where federal stimulus money is going. How was ESRI involved in that? "Our software was used to make the maps. However, the background started with the mayor of Baltimore, Martin O’Malley, who developed a map-based methodology for looking at the various operations of government departments. He called that system CityStat. When he became Governor of Maryland he used its GIS to build a StateStat Web mapping system that shows citizens where they are spending money on various types of projects.

The [Obama] administration has picked up on this work and is using mapping to evaluate progress and effectiveness of recovery spending. The vice president recently briefed the President and his cabinet with a series of 12 maps that show where stimulus money has been spent. There are no Web maps yet, just maps made by our software.

A number of federal agencies have also put up Web sites that show where they plan to spend stimulus funding money.

Earlier this year ESRI developed a prototype of something we call FedStat, a GIS system that shows where the greatest needs for various types of social investments are and then overlays maps illustrating where government is actually spending funds and their effectiveness. Because it demonstrated how maps can quickly communicate complex public policy decisions and how they affect specific localities, this prototype has been of big interest."

FedStat can’t work without actual data. Is the government providing enough supporting data to make tracking the federal stimulus money work? "There is always a lot of data. The issue is integrating and normalizing data from many sources. A lot of the money is being given to the states and they are required to give data back to the federal government on where and what they’re spending it on. Those standards for reporting are still being developed.

All of the infrastructure to process that data will be in place in October, when the next generation of will go live. At that time citizens will be able to access not only live data of government stimulus expenditures and their effectiveness but also maps of the data. That’s not exactly the full vision of FedStat but it 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. Versions of this kind of Web mapping are showing up in many federal and state agencies’ Web sites."

Some organizations are already doing that, providing recovery Web pages at the EPA, DOI, State of Oregon, and the State of Colorado. It's a fascinating, if incomplete, tour of where your money is going. To do this, the agencies downloaded a free downloadable Web map API from ESRI that lets GIS analysts who use ESRI software (most do) to quickly build this type of mapping into their Web sites.

NOTE: Since I posted this the feds created a new version of the ARRA reporting Web site that incorporates GIS technology. Read: relaunch puts stimulus spending on the map

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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