Monday, October 12, 2009

The Absurdity of Transparency

President Obama vowed to make his administration the most transparent in modern times, and he touts recovery.gov as the centerpiece of his supposed transparent masterpiece. That all sounds fine, and if any of it were true, I wouldn't be writing this.

From the start, critics tagged recovery.gov as a vehicle that exposed government idiocy, highlighting the Dept. of Labor's $8.9B mistake, the $2M ham are but a few examples. To be sure, governmental fraud, waste and abuse is to be expected. According to Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.), the industry standard level of government fraud is 7 percent. The reason is that the government simply cannot manage to watch all the money.

Earlier this year, the Obama Administration agreed that recovery.gov is such a mess that it is spending $18 million just to revamp it. That was in July. So Pro Publica, a non-profit news organization, filed a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the contract and its supporting documentation.

The contract the administration released in response to that FOIA request contained massive redactions of the key provisions, including such ridiculous sections as the number of peak users and one part titled "Introduction." Now, U.S. Code permits certain details to be withheld from the public, such as technical design, nonfederal customer and supplier lists, overhead and operating costs, names of consultants and subcontractors or any information that would place a company at a competitive disadvantage for winning future government work. It hardly sounds like the introduction or number of peak users expected will qualify.

Indeed, OMB watch filed an appeal of the FOIA ruling, which the Obama Administration promptly and completely refused.

The heavily edited contract is displayed in the following collage:



The absurdity of redacting half the pages of this contract is revealed in the Accountability provision of the recovery.gov website:
The following objectives are considered by the Inspectors General when reviewing if Recovery funds have been used and managed appropriately:
  • Were the Recovery funds awarded and distributed in a prompt, fair, and reasonable manner?
  • Are Recovery projects avoiding unnecessary delays and cost overruns?
  • Do Recovery programs meet specific goals and targets?
We cannot know the answers to those questions as the Obama Administration does not want you to know what is in the $18M contract awarded to Smartronix. According to the Examiner:
Smartronix, an obscure Maryland-based defense contractor with little prior web site design experience, won the contract. Smartronix president, Mohammed Javaid, vice president Alan Parris, and partner John Parris have together given $19,000 to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D) since 1999.

That is not to say the unredacted portion of the document doesn't provide a useful insight into what is going on here. There is, for example, this description of what will be found on the redesigned site: "We will watch the YouTube video of a father who has finally gotten back to work - working on an ecologically friendly transportation project that cannot be outsourced - as he speaks about the pride he feels coming home to his family after a long days work building a new transportation infrastructure."
Basically, the recovery.gov will contain content the Obama administration wants you to know. Why didn't they just name it propaganda.gov? Oh yes, the redacted contract was on Recovery.gov website, but has apparently been removed. You can still go here to look at the censored contract the Obama administration wants you to see.

2 comments:

The Wiz There Was said...

Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!

Bob in Los Angeles said...

Excellent comparison, except the Wizard of Oz was benevolant...