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$18 Million to Redesign Recovery.gov

Reminiscent of the no-bid, cost-plus contracts awarded in the Bush administration to defense contractors, ABC News reported last night the Obama Administration awarded a five-year $18 million contract to Smartronix, a Maryland-based IT firm with connections to House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, for the redesign of Recovery.gov.

Launched in February to track the expenditures of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Recovery.gov was to be the pinnacle of web-enabled transparency, according to President Barack Obama.

“The site is the tip of the iceberg for the effort that will go into taking spending tracking and accountability to the next level,” one administration official said of their intended level of transparency.

But now, it seems, the administration has failed to deliver on two pledges central to the Obama campaign’s rhetoric: fiscal responsibility and unrivaled transparency.

An acerbic Ed Morrissey asks, “Since when does it cost $18 million for a website, even one with a database requiring updates on a quarterly basis?”

Not often.

FedSpending.org, launched in October 2006 with a meager three-year $334,272 grant from the Sunlight Foundation, is a voluminous online database of all federal grants and contracts. And, unlike Recovery.gov, the website monitors the entire federal budget, and does so at a fraction of the projected cost of Recovery.gov.

Of course, the revelation that the private sector outperforms the federal government is nothing new. Recovery.gov, a project of Onvia, monitors the flow of recovery funds from the federal government to private businesses in real-time, unlike its overpriced government counterpart which reports spending 100 days after-the-fact, thereby enabling wasteful or fraudulent spending.

Onvia’s CEO Mike Pickett estimated in May his company spent approximately $20,000 to build Recovery.gov’s tracking infrastructure, a far cry from the inflated contract awarded by Obama’s White House.

By contrast, spending $18 million on redesigning an already-functioning website makes Ted Stevens’ $315 million “Bridge to Nowhere” project appear like a fiscally-sound endeavor.

Assuming, however, that the White House got a bargain on Recovery.gov’s redesign, the public is still, largely, in the dark on both how and where that $18 million will be spent, which, in and of itself, is comically ironic when one considers the intended aim of the website, that is, to provide information to the public to monitor stimulus spending.

Assuming, as the generous people we are, again that the White House got a bargain on Recovery.gov’s redesign and now that Smartronix will make the rebuilding process open and transparent, there is still the troubling issue of why. Why was Smartronix awarded the contract?

The Washington Examiner’s David Freddoso notes an important political connection between the Maryland-based firm and Congressman Hoyer as a potential explanation. Smartronix’s President and Vice President have together given $19,000 to Hoyer’s campaign coffers since 1999, according to FEC reports.

You scratch my back, and I’ll scratch yours make sure you get a $18 million contract to redesign a government website.

Uneasy with the prospect of the White House awarding offensively high contracts to the politically well-connected, Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele goes in for the kill.

“Vice President Biden warned us that there would be ‘waste’ in the stimulus bill. The Obama administration is devoting $18 million dollars to create a government website to show Americans just where their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent. This is unreal and outrageous.”

“If the Obama administration is willing to devote $18 million in taxpayer dollars to a website, imagine what government-run health care will charge taxpayers for an MRI,” he said.

Cross-posted at Skepticians.com.

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