Obama’s information website: Try it, you won’t like it

Obama’s information website: Try it, you won’t like it

A redesigned information website launched by the Obama administration last week looks like a bad April Fool’s joke.

Users can no longer search federal spending by keywords or find information that was previously available. Type in “contracts” and the response comes back empty.

Billed as a “transparency” tool, Usaspending.gov makes it more difficult to track taxpayer dollars.

“Information, such as how much the Pentagon spends on Viagra, used to be available at the click of a button,” the Washington Free Beacon noted. “Locating those same contracts on the new website is virtually impossible, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.”

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Users now need a “federal grant identification number” to see details of a contract.

The new and unimproved version provides totals of funding, sub-awards and transactions. The results list the highest dollar amounts by company, but provide no links to specific contracts.

The Free Beacon found the list of agencies does not include some government bodies, such as the National Endowment for the Arts, but does have data on the “Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.”

Results for profiles of “Other Small Agencies” returns zero grants or contracts. “No data found,” the site replies.

Users have found the site to be clunky. Functions are not intuitive. When the site does retrieve information, it spits out voluminous data that cannot be sorted or disaggregated — forcing inquirers to drink out of a fire hose.

President Obama pledged in 2009 that his administration would be “the most transparent in history.”

That audacious promise has been broken repeatedly. Last month, Watchdog.org was refused financial information on Small Business Investment Companies, which received public funding. Freedom of Information Act requests have gone unanswered.

Even the transparency site acknowledges its shortcomings.

“If you select more than one Fiscal Year, you will only be able to select one Spending Type,” the website states. “You can only select a maximum of three Fiscal Years at a time.”

The website was run by the Office of Management and Budget, before the Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service took it over in January, according to the Free Beacon.

After a week of poor reviews, Treasury spokesman said “a number of improvements” were installed. David Lebryk said the changes were designed to make the website easier to use by getting rid of confusing government contract “jargon.”

“Our refresh of the website responds to feedback from external stakeholders to improve the usability of the site and adopts an award-winning platform from Recovery.gov,” he said.

Read more by Kenric Ward at Watchdog.com.

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward

Kenric Ward is a national correspondent and writes for the Texas Bureau of Watchdog.org. Formerly a reporter and editor at two Pulitzer Prize-winning newspapers, Kenric has won dozens of state and national news awards for investigative articles. His most recent book is “Saints in Babylon: Mormons and Las Vegas.”


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