ABC News reported on Monday that the recovery.gov web site, which is supposed to track all the stimulus spending and the jobs “saved or created” is so screwed up that the data is garbage. (more here) The site reports spending and jobs saved for numerous congressional districts that don’t even exist. Not that the government would ever intentionally lie, not that. See:Media is discovering the count of jobs saved by stimulus is fraudulent.. This doesn’t surprise me. After all, it’s good enough for government work.
What shocked me is the cost of the government’s web site, $18+ Million dollars. As a programmer that makes no sense to me at all. How could a web site cost that much?
Now, Thanks to SunlightLabs we get some insight into how the government manages to spend $18+ Million on a web site that reports false information, i.e., garbage.
It turns out that the $18 Million isn’t even the total cost, because the garbage information fed into recovery.gov comes from another site called FederalReporting.Gov, and its cost appears to be another $19 Million. The whole mess didn’t become active until this October, eight months after the stimulus program was announced. Here’s a sample from that part of the circus:
The Office of Management and Budget required fund recipients to report on their stimulus projects by Oct. 10, which meant the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board had little time to get a reporting system up and running. In fact the board, on Oct. 10, pushed back the deadline 10 days to accommodate recipients who were having difficulty filing. The board originally anticipated federal agencies allocating funds would use their own information technology systems to transmit reports about awards. But that idea quickly faded.
“The first bad sign was Grants.gov needed $5 million to get in shape,” says board Chairman Earl Devaney, citing the online doorway to all federal grants. “We can’t afford to fix all the broken systems in the federal government to make this work, and the agencies don’t have the money to do that.“
Devaney decided to build something from scratch – almost. The Environmental Protection Agency already had a good thing going with its reporting system, which tracks regulatory compliance information from states, tribes, local governments and industry. So in mid-June, the board piggybacked onto EPA’s contract, awarding a $19 million task order to establish a stimulus reporting site. Within five months, contractor CGI Federal and the board had fashioned the blueprint for an old EPA data exchange into a financial reporting system intended to resuscitate the nation’s finances.
Translating, Devaney decided not to spend $5 million to fix a system they already had. Instead he spent $19 Million to make a new one, admitting in the process that it would probably, like all other government technology be broken from day-one. So it appears that the whole government fiasco (two web sites) cost something like $37 Million to set up. What it costs to operate I suspect nobody knows and nobody in government cares.
The cost of developing a web site derives almost entirely from manpower. If one deploys $37 Million for 8 months that would pay for 193 programmers paid $100 per hour, 60 hours per week. It looks like a plan to get the job done with a million monkeys on a million typewriters. Yes, CGI Federal, the contractor for the FederalReporting.Gov part of the site has to make a profit, but then they don’t pay their employees $100 per hour, either. Any way you look at it this $37 Million expenditure is a boondoggle.
To top that off, a private site called Recovery.Org appeared shortly after the stimulus was announced, and it has been in successful operation ever since. Recovery.org tracks stimulus money and detailed contracts in real time, broken down by state and city and even gives some job estimates. I contacted Onvia, the owner of Recovery.Org and asked how much money they spent to develop their web site. Unfortunately they didn’t get back to me in time for this article, but if the Onvia site took more than a dozen programmers and a few hundred thousand dollars to assemble, then I’ll send you a vegetarian rattlesnake from our Arizona desert.