Recovery.gov: How to Find Your Stimulus Money

IMAGE: Recovery.gov

Andrew MacRae is worried. He's just started a new job, he's concerned about the economy -- and if his tax money is being used to make things better, he says he'd certainly like to know about it.

So he tried the Obama administration's new Web site, Recovery.gov, which was billed by the White House as a portal to explain where $787 billion in stimulus money will be spent. He says it did not deliver for him.

"It's not a bad Web site," said MacRae. "But it's not a tool to tell me where the money is being used."

MacRae, who lives in Boston, probably accounts for a few of the 150 million hits that the administration says the site has gotten since it went live last month.

But, like a lot of people, he found he did a lot of clicking around -- only to find that the money is not out there yet.

Eventually, the administration promises, there will be more. But in the meantime, here's what you'll find.

Tracking the Stimulus

Go to the site. Along the right side is a vertical gray box with several sections. The ones that eventually may have the most practical use are the last two: "State Progress and Resources" and "Agency Progress and Resources."

Click on "Agency Progress and Resources," that last option. You'll get a new page with a long list of departments -- everything from the Agency for International Development to the Social Security Administration.

Just as an experiment, click on "Environmental Protection Agency." A new page will offer "EPA Information Related to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009." Most of the material on it may look pretty general to you, so...

For the heck of it, look at the left-hand margin on the page and click on "Where You Live."

Only then, in the middle of an introductory paragraph, will you find this important point: There are few specifics so far.

"Within the next few weeks, we'll begin to present information about how EPA is implementing the Recovery Act in each region of the country," it says.

Greg LeRoy, the executive director of Good Jobs First, has been tracking the federal expenditure plans, and says there is time for the administration to improve the Web site before then. But he says he is concerned that, at this point, states are not required to provide information on the outcomes of a particular project.

"So far, there is no requirement, for example, to list how many homes have been weatherized, or how many roads have been created, or how many new broadband customers have been added," LeRoy said.

He also is concerned that the site doesn't have the technical functions to make it consumer friendly.

"The site should have a search function so you could search a project by zip code, by city, by contractor or state," he said. "As it stands now, there is no way a consumer can effectively track and analyze the actions of the government."

Can an online recovery-tracking program actually work?

"I think that's a fair question to ask," said Craig Jennings of OMB Watch. "What would not be fair is to expect some kind of giant jobs board online. You have to get through a lot of bureaucracy, and that's difficult."

Show Me the Money

Recovery.gov offers links to the stimulus programs in each state -- but about half the states have not yet set up Web pages of their own, and the quality of state sites that have gone up varies greatly.

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