The General Services Administration announced on Wednesday that Smartronix, Inc. was awarded an $18 million contract to redesign Recovery.gov, the federal Web site that tracks stimulus funds.
GSA awarded the contract, which has an initial value of $9.5 million through January 2010, to the Hollywood, Md., technology firm on behalf of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The board is responsible for overseeing funds from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. If all options are exercised through January 2014, the total task order value could reach $18 million.
"Recovery.gov 2.0 will use innovative and interactive technologies to help taxpayers see where their dollars are being spent," said James A. Williams, commissioner of GSA's Federal Acquisition Service. "Armed with easy access to this information, taxpayers can make government more accountable for its decisions."
Under the contract, Smartronix is expected to provide the Recovery Board with a dynamic Web site that will allow the public to track exactly how stimulus funds are spent. Recovery Board spokesman Ed Pound emphasized that the contract involves much more than simply redesigning the Web site and includes building an online infrastructure that can interface with the system that the Environmental Protection Agency uses for reporting and collecting stimulus data.
Smartronix also will be responsible for hosting and maintaining the site, which must be up and running by Oct. 10, the first deadline for recipients to file reports on the use of stimulus funds. The company did not respond on Thursday to a request for comment. Records of campaign donors show Smartronix executives have given $19,000 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., since 1999, but the lawmaker's office said Hoyer did not know anything about the contract, and the office was informed about the award only Tuesday night.
"This is a very high-risk venture we're involved in here, given the time constraints. No question about it," Pound said. "We're really committed to doing this right. There are going to be bumps along the road, but we do have a plan, are executing it and feel comfortable with what we're doing. We know what our job is: to get this information to the public and we're going to do that."
Pound said Recovery.gov will allow the public to track stimulus funds down to the last dollar, and follow information on loan and grant recipients. That information is not currently offered on the federal transparency site USASpending.gov, which focuses on contract data.
"Other sites have done certain things, but no one's doing what we're doing. We're going to track every dollar from the prime recipient down to the subrecipient," Pound said, adding Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney has managed to procure enough technical personnel from other agencies to ensure the board is comfortable with its level of in-house technical expertise.
The Smartronix contract is the first award on GSA's Alliant vehicle, which was won in March one year after a protest derailed the original awards. Some open government advocates criticized GSA for limiting its solicitation to the 59 vendors on the Alliant contract. GSA received three bids and chose Smartronix.
"What we want is to make this process more open to people," said Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs at the Sunlight Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to increasing government transparency. "There's lots of good technology not offered by these 59 companies that does not reach the government, even though it's cheaper, better and faster."
Johnson said his organization's top priority for Recovery.gov is ensuring that the raw reporting data is available to the public in a machine-readable format. He said this is crucial because media and private sector Web sites will always have more readers and resources than those operated by the government.
"The real transparency is the bulk data and it's something they [Recovery Board] can do quickly," Johnson said.
The Recovery Board has already announced that the public will have access to the same machine-readable data that the board will use to update the site.
"We will post it almost as soon as we get it. We get it on [Oct.] 10 and the law allows 20 days, but we're not waiting 20 days," Pound said. "We're going to post it, it will be raw data with errors, but at some point along the line the recipients -- not the agencies -- will have to control the errors, hopefully, within the 20-day window."
Pound said Devaney hopes that by making the stimulus funds easy to track from top to bottom, he can enlist the American public to help him uncover any fraud and abuse.
"Earl came up with the phrase 'citizen inspector general' -- that there will be millions of citizen IGs who will help us uncover stuff," Pound said. "When the local mayor's brother-in-law gets a contract, how would an IG know? We look at the American people as partners in this."