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Stimulus watchdog defends Web contract

The government's chief overseer of economic stimulus spending is defending last week's award of an $18 million federal contract to a Maryland-based technology company to overhaul the Recovery.gov Web site, which allows the public to monitor the stimulus program.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which manages the site and tracks the use of stimulus funds, said Friday in an interview with National Journal Group that critics of the contract's cost have oversimplified the task of rebuilding "the government's largest Web site" in a matter of months, as well as the challenge of putting in place security controls and interconnectivity with a reporting system designed to handle an ocean of data.

The contract was announced Wednesday by the board and the General Services Administration. It calls for spending $9.5 million by January 2010, with options that would boost the value of the contract to $18 million by 2014.

Republican lawmakers quickly began circulating news releases and e-mailed statements ridiculing the size of the contract, and good-government groups bristled at a lack of details about the procurement deal.

Maryland-based Smartronix, Inc. was picked by a GSA-led panel of experts, Devaney said, adding that he did not personally participate in the selection process and had "never heard" of the company before.

The firm is based in the district of House Majority Leader Hoyer, a fact that has fueled some of the criticism.

The new "Recovery.gov 2.0" Web site is slated for completion before recipients of stimulus funds begin submitting quarterly spending reports Oct. 10.

Only two other companies - Accenture and SRA - submitted bids for the high-profile overhaul. "I suspect this was such a risky venture that it scared lots of bidders away," Devaney said.

Creating the infrastructure to process a huge volume of information is a daunting task, he added. "We're estimating about 200,000 to 400,000 recipients [of federal stimulus funds] ... and we're asking each one to talk to us about 44 pieces of data," Devaney said.

The new site will display data submitted by states, localities, and contract recipients via a new online interface called FederalReporting.gov. The redesign calls for an interactive mapping application that users can manipulate to identify how stimulus money is being used in their communities.

Asked if the October deadline for the project's completion could slide, Devaney shook his head. "It's got to happen" by then, he said.

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