Some time ago I posted about the innovative initiative taken by the US government to gather ideas about how to build Recovery.gov, the web site that is supposed to allow every dollar from the stimulus package to be tracked to relevant outcomes (such as projects and jobs created).
According to today’s news, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the General Services Administration will soon publish a request for proposals so that IT vendors can bid for the site redesign. The budget for site development and maintenance (of which the RFP should cover one part) is part of the 84 million US dollars earmarked for the functioning of the Recovery Acountability and Transparency Board [the report above suggests that the site would consume a substantial portion].
Taking into account that (1) recovery.gov has started crowdsourcing part of the solution and (2) there are private sector sites (such as recovery.org) that already provide pretty sophisticated tracking capabilities, one wonders about the reasons for such a traditional approach to development.
While I cannot comment without seeing the actual RFP text, this looks like running contrary to some of the principles stated by this administration. On the other hand, principles are one thing, accountability is another one. Can anyone in government really rely on a solution that is not developed using traditional contractual instruments, and without holding an IT vendor liable?
The crowdsourcing idea is a great one and – in all fairness – it looks like the vendor will have to consider some of the input received through that exercise. But, let’s face it, should anything go wrong, could government ever sue the crowd?
Innovative and groundbreaking ideas in government often clash with regulations and procedures. One should not aim for perfection but try to achieve as much change as possible within those constraints. If the US government could tender out the contract in a few weeks (rather than months) and possibly make it at least an order of magnitude smaller than contracts for traditional government web sites, that would be already a major accomplishment.