What Does an $18M Website Look Like? Taxpayers Can’t Know — Yet

By Gorman Gorman

Aug 3, 2009 1:13pm

ABC News’ Rick Klein reports:

Last month we brought you the story of the $18 million upgrade to Recovery.gov, with the government’s decision to award Maryland-based Smartronix a five-year contract. Now, some details are emerging of what the new Recovery.gov — which aims to document the spending of stimulus dollars — will look like. A raft of data about the contract was posted by the General Services Administration late Friday, offering the first glimpse of what taxpayers are getting for their hefty investment. But it’s only a glimpse. Big portions of the contract award — including what appear to have been screen grabs of a new interactive portal, information about subcontractors, and how much Smartronix plans to pay its employees for work on the project — are redacted.Particularly unilluminating is the 33-page vision for the site submitted by Smartronix to the GSA as part of its bid proposal. The project schedule is blacked out. So are all of pages 30-33 — the entire section titled “CONCLUSION.” The few “visual representations” included in the proposal are, without explanation, in faded black-and-white.As for what is said about the site, we’re told it will be easy to use when it’s up and running this fall: “The composite site put forth in our proposal reflects a highly usable, intuitive interface through which a wide variety of audiences will be able to access the data on the site and experience the ARRA through various visualization options. This particular design extends beyond a simple access point where citizens can view a data stream and provides an environment where users can connect with tangible proof of their hard earned money at work. The experience is simple, easy and inclusive of all levels of internet users while technologically sound and immersive. It evokes the confidence of an advanced system while the nuts and bolts remain invisible to the user.”Also, look for Recovery.gov on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr: “Recovery.gov will come to you, even if you do not come to us,” Smartronix wrote in its proposal. The GSA’s press statement announcing the release of the documents promises “a user-friendly portal to see how recovery money is being spent” — and says that releasing the contract award “is part of this effort.”The release continues: “Consistent with the release of these types of documents, they were carefully reviewed to ensure compliance with all relevant regulations. Proprietary information about Smartronix and its partners has been redacted pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(B)(4), which allows for the withholding of certain commercial or financial records if the release of such records would involve a substantial risk of competitive injury to a business.”"Information that qualifies for redaction can include private business sales statistics, technical design, research data, non federal customer and supplier lists, overhead and operating costs, non-public financial statements, resumes of company employees, names of consultants and subcontractors, details of production or quality control systems information, internal operating procedures, staffing patterns, and any information that may place a company at a competitive disadvantage for future procurements.”"We take our responsibility to implement the Recovery Act in an open and transparent manner very seriously.”I’ve called the GSA for more information on why there’s still so much we don’t know, and will update this posting as officials respond.

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