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Obama To Launch Website For Tracking Tax Expenditures 358

Posted by Soulskill
from the government-two-point-oh dept.
internationalflights tips news that Barack Obama, in his first weekly address as President, has mentioned plans to set up a website for tracking "how and where we spend taxpayer dollars." Details about the website, Recovery.gov, are available within the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (PDF). The website "shall provide data on relevant economic, financial, grant, and contract information in user-friendly visual presentations to enhance public awareness of the use funds made available in this Act," and will also "provide a means for the public to give feedback on the performance of contracts awarded for purposes of carrying out this Act." The site itself currently contains a placeholder until the passage of the Act.
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Obama To Launch Website For Tracking Tax Expenditures

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  • While I think this (as a non-US citizen) is a nice idea, my experience with Government released information is that those who should take notice don't and the Government risks the very real threat of releasing too much information... meaning even if someone wanted to look somthing up they'd have a hard job finding it in the first place.
    • What will be of secret underground military bases where they keep all those alien spaceships and huge jars of pickled aliens?
      How will they be funded now? Where will Will Smith and Vivica A. Fox get married in case of a alien invasion? In a field somewhere?

      There WAS a reason US government was spending $20,000.00 on a hammer, $30,000.00 on a toilet seat, you know?

    • by artson (728234)
      It would be nifty to see a graphical link between bill amendment sponsors, campaign contributions and signatories. That way you could click on one of the riders to the bill, see who sponsored it and why - like who got paid off.

      I've seen notations to this effect in slashdot coversations about the DMCA for instance. It has also been useful in Canadian political discussions such as those at http://michaelgeist.ca/ [michaelgeist.ca] where we could see that the minister responsible for communications law (Bev Oda, also known as

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:08AM (#26598131)
    It freaks me out how much Obama's doing right. It's almost as if I've been elected president, except he seems to waste less time on slashdot and actually gets things done.
    • by Neoprofin (871029) <neoprofinNO@SPAMhotmail.com> on Sunday January 25, 2009 @11:10AM (#26598505)
      Like issuing that executive order on lobbyists to much fan fair and then quietly asking for an exception the next day?

      I like this one though, hopefully it'll be as good in practice as it is in theory.
      • I think a big part of that practice is not just making the information available, but consumable in an easy way. So, if I want to run my own analysis of the data, it ought to be made available in a standard format so as to facilitate those purposes (ie XML and accompanying schema), as opposed to making it only available through HTML or an Excel spreadsheet.

      • Don't forget about Tom Daschle, either. He's married to Linda Hall [washingtonpost.com], the mother of all lobbyists.
      • by bledri (1283728) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @12:57PM (#26599313)

        I think it's better have the executive order and ask for an exceptions than to not have the order at all. I assume the guy is really freakin' valuable because I'm pretty sure Obama knew that asking for the exception would be politically costly to all the ideologues and partisans on both sides of the aisle.

        Five seconds of goggling yielded this:

        Defense Secretary Gates said at his news briefing today that he had personally vetted Lynn and found him to be the best qualified for the job and that an exception had to be made to bring him aboard.

        Gates said the Obama transition recognized his Raytheon position might become an issue. "I was very impressed with his credentials; he came with the highest recommendations of a number of people that I respect a lot. And I asked that an exception be made, because I felt that he could play the read of the deputy in a better manner than anybody else that I saw. He said that the White House Counsel's office, presidential personnel and the Pentagon's General Counsel are making arrangements to get the necessary information to Levin's committee."

    • by 4D6963 (933028)

      Exactly how I felt for a while too. Before Obama, I'd always think, "I wish I was president just so I could do this, this and that, or make this a priority" (among these things were such issues as the influence of lobbyists in Washington, market regulation, universal health care and death penalty).

      Now we've got this uncommonly wise and pragmatic (the long sighted kind of pragmatic, short sighted pragmatism is awful) president, with nearly no ideological grudge, who seems to understand all points of view (un

      • by PeeAitchPee (712652) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @01:30PM (#26599571)

        I mean, you can't really top this, that guy knows so well the issues he's tackling, he probably knows what's good for you better than you do on a few issues!

        Careful now. I know a lot of people are still in the throes of post-inauguration orgasm afterglow, but that's really a very dangerous train of thought. NO GOVERNMENT can be trusted that they know what's better for you, than you do -- ever. Some of the most evil and destructive regimes in the history of the human civilization have suggested exactly the same thing in order to take and maintain absolute power.

        Everyone needs to take a deep breath and see how things proceed over the next year or two. To suggest that this administration is fundamentally different than any of the others after only five days in office is dangerously naive.

  • by VampireByte (447578) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:11AM (#26598147) Homepage

    Can we post comments, click on a little thumbs up/down button, have logins where we set up a profile and can choose what picture displays next to our comments (anime schoolgirl, picture of our cat, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman, etc.), connect to our friends (OMG can you believe they won't be funding our ipod museum WTF!!!), blog about what we think about how our money was spent on researching the impact improving a bridge will have on the local sewer rat population...

    • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:33AM (#26598269)

      I dont think this is funny. I think its appropriate. Why not? Why are your comments any more important than someone who wants an ipod museum? Did you participate in change.gov? hunbdreds of thousands did, with moderating and voting up and voting down. It brought issues forward, started discussions and got responses.

      Democracy is being responsible to the people. That is a feature, not a bug.

      • But the man kept hitting the "thumbs down" on each proposal. What kind of democracy is it when a dozen people on the internet support the ipod museum and all their suggestions get buried to the ground? I mean, why should any comment get buried?

        That is a feature, not a bug.

        Hopefully Obama will dedicate 24 billion to eliminating all software bugs everywhere. Those fat cats on wall street have let the bug problem carry on far to long. We need a bug-bailout *and* an ipod museum in every major city (Chicago,

        • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

          by john.r.strohm (586791)

          You complain 'But the man kept hitting the "thumbs down" on each proposal. What kind of democracy is it when a dozen people on the internet support the ipod museum and all their suggestions get buried to the ground? I mean, why should any comment get buried?'

          Answer, because that is the DEFINITION of democracy. In a democracy, if a majority of the voters decide to fsck you, you're fscked. If a small minority is allowed to rant, rave, and get their way, even though the majority don't agree with them, and vo

          • by coryking (104614) *

            Thankfully I can be a pedant and point out we live in a republic that was designed to slow down our process so we can think rather then be ruled by the mob. A straight democracy looks exactly like Digg, and quite frankly I wouldn't want to live in Diggnation.

            If you don't like the above hard truth

            It is the hard truth. But wait until one of those ipod museum people hires a hot-shot lawyer and sues the feds for burying their precious idea. Make no mistake, a government website with moderation is uncharted w

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by Zarhan (415465)

            Democracy doesn't necessarily have to mean that simple majority (50% + 1) votes is enough. US Senate needs 60 votes to be filibuster-proof, constitutional amendments require pretty steep supermajority (need to be ratified on state level too), and so on.

            Looking at sibling poster's "9 people" example, what if motion passing requires 80% of the vote?

    • by MikeURL (890801)
      What would be fun is to implement a slashdot style voting system. So you'd need good karma, get limited votes and be subject to metamoderation. Applying that to line item government spending would really be cool.

      So each line item would have its own page, with comments voted on just like slashdot pages. It would, of course, still be imperfect but it would leverage the crowd better than just cutting and pasting the bills on a website. All bills can already be downloaded and I'm not sure if that helps a
      • A lot of those line items in a bill don't apply to you or your state. How would you feel if your senator added a line for funding light rail in your region and it was voted down by some jackass who doesn't live in your state? After all, didn't they get their stupid Elvis Museum funded last year? Why should their state get a grant and then have our project get overruled based on the will of random internet users.

        Letting random internet users vote on each line item would change the power balance in governm

  • by smchris (464899) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:18AM (#26598183)

    The thought might be good. But what percentage of our taxes will be listed as "other" for the NSA, CIA, classified Defense, State and God knows what?

    On the other hand, if Americans realize how much is "other", it could be an eye-opener. People will have more to complain about than welfare mothers and mass transit.

    • by conureman (748753) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:25AM (#26598227)

      The people who complain about "welfare mothers and mass transit" will continue to complain about whatever their leaders tell them that the "problem" is. They are not capable of realization.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by PeeAitchPee (712652)

        Agreed. Let's also not forget about those complaining about poor people in rural America finding comfort in their churches and exercising their 2nd Amendment rights.

    • by Neoprofin (871029)
      You know you can look up information like that every year when the main budget is released? There are lots of people who do this kind of work independently. The problem with the bailouts is that they're a giant trough of money being thrown at random with little to no review or oversight.

      The big debate I notice every year is whether the VA budget should fall under defense/military or health care and social programs.
  • Technology (Score:5, Insightful)

    by crumbz (41803) <.moc.liamg>maps ... uj>maps_evomer> on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:21AM (#26598199) Homepage

    What has surprised me about the Obama campaign was how they used information technology effectively to get their message out. These people get it. This administration understands that the majority of the U.S. population has access to the internet, has become relatively informed about the issues and wants to be kept in the loop with respect to governmental decision making. Not to be partisan, but this is quite a change from the previous administration, who made few efforts to directly connect with the average voter.

    • by Anpheus (908711)

      Few efforts? They only kept the radio addresses and White House Press Secretary out of tradition, not because of some sort of desire to help you or I make better decisions or stay informed.

      • Well (Score:5, Interesting)

        by coryking (104614) * on Sunday January 25, 2009 @12:05PM (#26598889) Homepage Journal

        During the inauguration, I got a text message from them asking if I wanted more info about the event. Once I set "yes", I got messages about the weather, where to go in Washington dc and other local info (even though I wasn't there :-). Once it was over, I got a thankyou email from "President Barack Obama" (info@pic2009.org) thanking me for participating.

        Their campaign sent out all kinds of text messages and emails, I donated to the Red Cross/Hurricane Gustav by text message thanks to them. It was pretty impressive how much they used this new-fanged inter-tube-text-messaging thing. The fact they took that technology and are now using it for "serious business" is a great sign.

        In short, when was the last time you ever got an email or text message from "President George Bush" thanking you for anything?

        • by bledri (1283728)

          I think the GP and GGP's reference to "few efforts" is in regard to the Bush administration, not Obama.

          Regarding the topic of this article, I think it's great. As I've said many times, the key to improving the US is transparency, not ideology. Another key is taking steps in the right direction and making incremental improvements. So to the cynics that think that v1.0 of the tax dollar tracking site will suck - v1.0 is the stepping stone to v2.0. As Ivan Turgenev said, "If we wait for the moment when e

    • this is quite a change from the previous administration, who made few efforts to directly connect with the average voter.

      Which was almost Orwellian, because I remember the previous administration talking about "transparency" as if they were running every decision past the average voter.

    • Re:Technology (Score:4, Interesting)

      by value_added (719364) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @03:21PM (#26600605)

      What has surprised me about the Obama campaign was how they used information technology effectively to get their message out. These people get it.

      Indeed. Now that the election is over, I think it would be fun to look back at how it is we got to where we are, and thereby make wild-assed deductions about individual candidates approach to technology. From Site Operating System and Server by Candidate [marketingtechblog.com]

      FreeBSD
          - Barack Obama (D) - FreeBSD, Apache by pair Networks
          - Christopher Dodd (D) - FreeBSD, Apache by pair Networks

      Linux
          - Joe Biden (D) - Linux, Zope by Interlix
          - John Edwards (D) - Linux, Apache by Plus Three
          - Bill Richardson (D) - Linux, Zope by Interlix
          - Wesley Clark (D) - Linux, Apache by Voxel Dot Net, Inc.
          - Al Gore (D) - Linux, Apache by Rackspace
          - Jim Gilmore (R) - Linux, Apache by 1&1 Internet, Inc.
          - Rudy Giuliani (R) - Linux, Apache by RackSpace
          - Ron Paul (R) - Linux, Apache by Rackspace
          - Dennis Kucinich (D) - Linux, Apache by New Age Consulting
          - Mitt Romney (R) - Linux, Apache by Rackspace

      Windows
          - Hillary Clinton (D) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0
          - Sam Brownback (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by RackForce Hosting
          - Mike Huckabee (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by LNH Inc.
          - Duncun Hunter (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Individual
          - John McCain (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Smartech Corporation
          - Tom Tancredo (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Interland
          - Fred Thompson (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by LNH Inc.
          - Tommy Thompson (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Time Warner Telecom
          - Chuck Hagel (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Individual
          - Newt Gingrich (R) - Windows Server 2003, Microsoft-IIS/6.0 by Smartech Corporation

      Not entirely certain that the above could be translated as "FreeBSD: Change We Can Believe In!", but interesting nonetheless.

      On the other hand, both pmo.gov.ps and knesset.gov.il use Windows/IIS, so whatever the "Change" strategy is, it will have to be implemented by diplomatic efforts on the part the Secretary of State, perhaps in conjunction with the help of individuals with sufficient technological expertise. I hear that the ex-chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation might be available.

  • by thetoadwarrior (1268702) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @10:34AM (#26598273) Homepage
    The government should tell us nothing otherwise the terrorists might get a hold of something valuable and use it to plot an attack against a flag lapel pin factory or something else that will compromise our patriotism and freedom!
  • Like having 2 people create a tiny web page where text is an image!

  • by Mex (191941) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @11:00AM (#26598419)

    ... he didn't wear a USA flag lapel pin. I can only imagine how 4 years of McCain would've been different.

    • by Neoprofin (871029)
      I almost didn't elect him because he's a proponent of big government, throwing my money into sink holes and asking why I would even want those silly freedoms I have. In fact the only reason he got elected is because I know how McCain would have been different, and God help us all if that happened.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by dbcad7 (771464)
        Unlike Bush's small government, frugality, and support for a "god damned piece of paper" ?
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Neoprofin (871029)
          Funny, I didn't vote for him, and I must have missed the part where the existence of Bush changes my opinions on Obama's policy.
  • Excellent! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Jerry (6400) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @11:20AM (#26598565)

    I didn't vote for the man but I agree with everything he's done so far.

    Now if he can just get Universal Health Care going, and bring home our troops from ALL the nations where they are deployed, and redeploy them along our boarders to curtail drug traffic and illegal immigration I would be even more happy.

  • I think the gov should blatantly rip off the deathandtaxes website for their actual budget as well. Why stop at having super oversight of just the recovery money? This would work brilliantly for the budget as well.

  • It's awesome to look at where tax dollars are being spent. But wouldn't it be better not to have so many things to have to look at?

    Take the "stimulus" bill that hardly spends any money this year (you know, when stimulus would seem to be required to actually help anyone). Happily thanks to third parties you can see just what kind of boondoggle is underway, and try to speak about about just what kind of pork is being lathered on a massive government spending increase:

    ReadTheStimulous.org

    We need openness BEF

  • Publish the data (Score:2, Interesting)

    by RegTooLate (1135209)
    The government needs to make sure that they post actual data in a portable format like XML. The EPA publishes emissions data http://camddataandmaps.epa.gov/gdm/ [epa.gov] in portable XML formats for scientist and the public to use the data as they need. For example, http://www.govtrack.us/ [govtrack.us] uses publicly published data to deliver a complete service. Having the data available as a feed or a series of published data files instead of some static website enables everyone else to see the details and deliver meaningful c
  • Transparency? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by BCW2 (168187) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @12:28PM (#26599049) Journal
    Let's see if it lists every single earmark and who is responsible for it. That crap accounts for more than 20% of the waste and could be 40%. Then we will know who to target for defeat in the next election.

    All spending bills have to originate in the House. Seems that we need to just vote against every incumbent for the next 5 or 6 elections.
    • Re:Transparency? (Score:4, Insightful)

      by hey! (33014) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @01:21PM (#26599505) Homepage Journal

      Of course every single earmark will be in the system. The agencies who disburse the money can't buy a box of paper clips without being able to point to a line in the budget authorizing the purchase.

      The problem is in the second part: who is responsible for the earmark. True, "all spending bills have to originate in the House," but this doesn't mean much when bills can be mysteriously and anonymously altered in the reconciliation process, with earmarks nobody has ever heard of being inserted in the middle of the night before the bill comes up for a vote.

      It's not just that the legislative branch has managed to muck with the Constitutional division of powers between the houses, they've developed ways of legislating and budgeting in secret. This isn't just a subversion of Constitutional divisions of power, it's a subversion of the whole rationale for representative democracy.

      I've always wondered why proponents of term limits even bother. Even if we change the faces, we don't know what they're up to or who they're working for. Everything term limit proponents hope to gain by term limits can be achieved, and more, by simply requiring every public act of elected officials to be a matter of conveniently accessible public record. Until that happens we aren't electing public officials, we're electing rulers.

      But this is a start. People using it will see the pork, and when they run into the stone wall trying to find out where it came from, they'll complain. Right now, they know there's stuff in there to complain about, but they can't get started because they don't know what it is.

  • And just who will decide what is "relevant," and to what it is relevant.

    My problem at this point is the apparent "need to know" basis by which the administration will run, and has run since the campaign. There has been a cycle of deflection and disinformation already which does not inspire a lot of Hope(tm) for Change(tm).

    And will this be another hard and fast rule against which exceptions will be made for no other reason than being the "best option?"

    But then, why not? We are already fostering a culture o

  • That's a start. (Score:5, Interesting)

    by hey! (33014) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @01:06PM (#26599385) Homepage Journal

    But what we really need is a version tracking and autentication system for federal legislation to complement it.

    It'd work like this.

    You go onto the President's budget website and discover, say, a a hundred thousand dollar grant to some local company to study the effect of interpretive dance on crop growth. Where did it come from? Well, the budget site tells you it was an earmark in the 2010 transportation bill. How did it get into that?

    Well, you go to Congress's legislation site, and find that the earmark was in the final bill, but not the initial house bill. The earmark was inserted the night before the bill went to a final vote, and the digital signature belongs to an aid in Senator Blowhard's office.

    Transparency isn't just publishing data. It's establishing accountability by making everything traceable.

    The technology to do this isn't exotic. The system resembles the kind of version control systems that even small software development teams can install and put in place. Commercial, off the shelf document and workflow management systems that could handle this for an enterprise the size of Congress have been in existence for at least twenty years, to my personal knowledge.

    It would be amazing if putting such a system in place cost would more than ten or twenty million dollars. Even if it cost a hundred million, how much money would it save, even just in the first year? Could we even put a price on how much less corrupt government would be?

    • by coryking (104614) * on Sunday January 25, 2009 @02:44PM (#26600283) Homepage Journal

      How does congress manage documents now? Are they just emailing word documents around as attachments, or is there a modern-ish document management system in place? Is it homebrew, or commercial?

      A quick search turned up that "they" might already be working on a solution to your problems.

      GPO's Federal Digital System (FDsys) is an advanced digital system that will enable GPO to manage Government information in a digital form. FDsys will enable GPO to manage information from all three branches of the U.S. Government...

      ...[Some of the main functions of the system include] Version control -- Multiple versions of published information are common; FDsys will provide version control for government information.

      FDsys [gpo.gov]

  • Misleading Headline (Score:3, Informative)

    by thefinite (563510) on Sunday January 25, 2009 @05:02PM (#26601505)
    Techincally, a "tax expenditure" is when the government forgoes revenue on something in order to protect or promote it (ex. the 501(c)(3) tax exemption is a tax expenditure on charitable activities). See this definition: Tax Expenditure [c-span.org]

    The federal government "spends" vast amounts of money by specially exempting certain things from taxation. (This is not to be confused with the stuff government doesn't have a right to tax to begin with.)

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