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Spending oversight requires digging deep for data

Earl Devaney

Earl Devaney // AP file photo

The most important step in using data analysis to reduce waste and fraud in government spending is to ensure you have all the information you need, an architect of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board’s system to track stimulus spending said Friday.

That’s why the board insisted that primary recipients of funding from the 2009 Recovery Act report on spending by their subcontractors, Gaurav Pal said during a virtual conference on open government data sponsored by Data.gov.

Pal is director of strategic programs at Smartronix, the contractor that helped develop Recovery.gov and managed its transition to cloud hosting in 2010.

Former Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney has urged the Obama administration to collect information on even more layers of subcontractors, reaching all the way down to the bottom tier.

The Recovery Board’s analysis tools have proved popular with other agencies, which have asked for help tracking their own contracts and grants for fraud and waste. The board received 50 such requests between January and May, Pal said. The awards the agency was asked to look over total nearly $1.6 billion, he said.

The move to cloud hosting was another important lesson from Recovery.gov, Pal said, as was the board’s decision to crowdsource oversight by publishing geocoded maps so that citizens could monitor stimulus projects in their own cities and neighborhoods.

The cloud’s elastic storage model allowed the site to expand to accommodate huge demand when public interest in stimulus spending was at its height and then to slim down later, he said.

About 4,500 contractors were listed as non-compliant with the program’s reporting requirements soon after it launched in September 2009. That number had dropped to about 400 by March 2012, Pal said.

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