Transparency Why the Private Sector, Not the Feds, Is Tracking Stimulus Spending in Real Time—Q&A with honcho Mike Pickett


Remember the day when President Barack Obama promised that concerned citizens would be able to track "every dime" of stimulus money online? He was talking about the official government website,

Which doesn't have any details about contracts or grants yet—and won't until October 2009 or, more likely, sometime next year, long after the thrill of living is gone and a huge chunk of the $787 billion stimulus package has already been frittered away on "shovel-ready" projects such as the John Murtha-Johnstown Cambria County Airport (pop. 20 passengers a day).

Thankfully, the folks at the information-services firm Onvia stepped in and created the site, which is already on the case and showing, as much as is possible, who is getting what.

Like Adam Smith's butchers, bakers, and brewers, it's not from Onvia's benevolence that the company is doing this, but from its self-interest: The company puts mostly small and mid-sized firms in touch with local, state, and federal agencies that need some sort of contract work done.

Which might well be the point: The private sector has eaten the feds' lunch on this precisely because they have to hustle in order to keep the wolf from the door. Even, ironically (and a frankly disturbingly) when the project is all about cashing in on government dollars.

On Wednesday, May 13 6, 2009, caught up with Onvia CEO Mike Pickett and asked him about the reaction so far to, his hopes for government accountability and transparency, and whether sunlight really is the best disinfectant.

Approximately 5 minutes. Interview conducted and edited by Dan Hayes at the Heritage Foundation.

Go here for embed code and Ipod, HD, and audio-only versions.

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  1. Look for some regulator or other to try to shut them down for this. No for-profit entity can be trusted to accurately detail the doings of our public servants. The evil corporations might try to give people the idea that their tax money is being pissed away on worthless projects.

  2. Over here in academia, we laugh whenever someone mentions “shovel-ready research”.

  3. Hazel,

    Piled High and Deep.

  4. Actually, that should be “Piled high and Deep.”

  5. suprise, suprise, if you want a service the private sector will provide it eon’s before the public sector.

    Can anyone explain the stimulus spending in the following places? (data from

    Puerto Rico: $2,132.841M
    U.S. Virgin Islands: $65.362M
    Guam: $52.024M
    American Samoa: $43.488M
    Northern Mariana Islands: $32.474M
    Palau: $0.494M
    Marshall Islands: $0.413M
    Federated States of Micronesia: $0.347M

  6. So you filmed that next Wednesday? That’s some crack reporting. What’s next on Reason.TV? Doc Brown on the Robot Wars of 2034? Hubert Farnsworth on the Farnsworth Paradox?

  7. For a split second and based on the title I thought that Reason had actually confronted someone with some power about something and had got it on tape. I was relieved to learn that it was just another mindless talking head show. I don’t want Reason to lose out on even a single Beltway cocktail party invite. Those invites are worth more than gold bars!

  8. I think Lonewacko is jealous. Don’t the Minutemen ever hold cocktail parties?

  9. Even the Minutemen have standards. They expelled LoneWackoff after he accused them of not asking the hard questions.

  10. Let me be the first to say (in this thread, anyway):

    STFU, LoneWacko!

  11. Nothing motivates like easy money from the government teet. Hell even the hind teet on the government sow is a good place to be.

  12. As someone who worked at a company that Mike Pickett once ran, I must point out that his strategic decisions contributed to the crash and burn of a Fortune 500 computer products distributor. A former associate of mine will have an apoplectic fit when he sees this video. He predicted Pickett would land on his feet.

  13. I’m known somewhat for being the only person outside of a certain federal department to have reverse engineered an enormous database they use for tracking a $120M/year project. I’ve given about half-a-dozen presentations on the horrendously useless nature of of that database.

    The notion that the government would be able to track 7,000 times the money, being spent in thousands of municipalities, is indeed laughable.

    But sounds like an interesting website. Who has its number? I’d like to visit it, but I don’t know its website number.

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