Here’s how the Recovery Act became a test case for open data

Andrea Peterson in the Washington Post: “Making sure that government money is spent efficiently and without fraud can be difficult. You need to collect the right data, get the information to the right people, and deal with the sheer volume of projects that need tracking. Open data make the job easier to draw comparisons across programs and agencies. And when data are released to the public, everyone can help be a government watchdog.
When President Obama was first elected in 2008, he promised transparency. Almost immediately after he was sworn into office, he had an opportunity to test that promise with the implementation of the Recovery Act. And it worked…. used geospatial technology to “allow Americans to drill down to their zip codes exactly where government money was being spent in their neighborhood.” It’s this micro-level of attention that increased accountability, according to Devaney.
“The degree of transparency forced them to get it right because they didn’t want to be embarrassed by their neighbors who they knew were going to these Web sites and could see what they were doing with the money.”
As to the second question of what data to collect: “I finally put my foot down and said no more than 100 pieces of data,” Devaney recalls, “So naturally, we came up to 99.” Of course, even with limiting themselves to that number of data points, transparency and fraud prevention was a daunting task, with the 300,000 some grantees to keep tabs on.
But having those data points in an open format was what allowed investigators to use “sophisticated cyber-technology and software to review and analyze Recovery-related data and information for any possible concerns or issues.” And they were remarkably successful on that end. A status report in October, 2010 showed “less than 0.2 percent of all reported awards currently have active fraud investigations.” Indeed, for Devaney’s  tenure leading the board he says the level of fraud hovered somewhere below half of one percent of all awards.”