Anybody can look up every expenditure reported. But how do you ensure clarity and accuracy? Will media or others take pot shots without attempting to follow through on unclear information that’s been posted?
Today, the answer is “yes.” Drudge Report started posting some odd-looking entries into the recovery.gov system with alarming headlines, such as: “AWARDED: $1,191,200 FOR ‘2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED’ “ This led to a quick scramble by the Department of Agriculture to explain:
“The references to “2 pound frozen ham sliced” are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy “2 pounds of ham” are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound.”
Is it up to the data submitter (in this case, Clougherty Packing, LLC), the reporter, or the government to ensure clarity or context? Doing data quality control over 200,000 separate submitters and still allow relatively “real time” access to data is probably impossible. Will a political “gotcha” atmosphere temper the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase transparency? Or is this just the price of getting it right?
As Recovery Board chairman Earl Devaney notes in his first blog post today: “Think of Recovery.gov as a “New Dawn” in transparency and accountability. To my way of thinking, the government will have to follow this model in future spending. The public will not accept any less, and you shouldn’t.”