In bid for transparency, White House launches tech dollar tracking tool

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    A screen grab from the IT Dashboard, a new Web tool which allows users to track the progress of information technology initiatives.
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"A journey towards greater Transparency and Accountability."

That's how the US government is touting a new web tool which allows users to chart the progress of information technology initiatives. And yes, the choice to use caps on "Transparency and Accountability" was all Uncle Sam's.

Dubbed the IT Dashboard – again with the caps! – the website is laden with brightly colored pie charts and graphs of all description, and features a list of the top recipients of tech dollars in 2009. (The leader, in case you were wondering, is the Department of Health Care Services, which received just north of $18 billion.)

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The web site was created through a 2006 law designed to foster greater openness about government spending and contracting. That law, first introduced by a bipartisan group that included then-Senator Barack Obama, was the catalyst for the "open government initiatives that the Obama Administration has put forward," according to a press release announcing the site.

"This administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of openness in government and the IT Dashboard exemplifies that goal," Chief Information Officer Vivek Kundra said in a statement. "Through the dashboard, we are putting critical information about IT spending at people's fingertips. We are putting ourselves on the line for better management of taxpayers' dollars and better results from technology initiatives."

$72 billion is budgeted for IT spending in 2009, the press release says.

So how does the site measure up? Here's Tim O'Reilly, a media analyst:

Overall, the data dashboard is a small but important step. Even though the Federal IT portfolio, at $70 billion, is huge, it's a tiny fraction of overall government spending. But if Vivek Kundra and his team can prove the benefit of radical transparency in this sphere, we can hope that it will spread to other areas of government.

Elsewhere, O'Reilly argues that "the site would benefit from more structured opportunities for interaction and requests for further information. In particular, we need a better and more detailed view of project objectives for the public to engage properly in oversight and brainstorming."

Over at Fast Company, reporter Kit Eaton says, "The US government's openness is surprising given the opacity of Bush's presidential era.... Twitter has practically exploded with excitement over what, if you think about it, is a relatively dry and fusty government data source."

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