Track Your Tax Dollars on Stimulus Bill Website

Originally published on CNN

February 18, 2009
Lis Respers France (Reporter, CNN.com)

In keeping with President Obama's pledge of an administration that is "transparent and accountable," the White House has launched a site that promises to show taxpayers where their stimulus-package dollars are being spent.

The site, Recovery.gov, allows visitors to track efforts to jump-start a teetering economy in the midst of a slumping housing market and massive job losses.

It breaks down the $787 billion package by category: $288 billion for tax relief, $59 billion for health care, and so on. The site promises that more detailed spending information will be posted once federal agencies decide how they are going to allocate the money.

Using graphs, charts and layman's terminology, the online portal is an example of how the tech-savvy Obama administration is taking its message to the American people.

While running for president, Obama harnessed the Web's fundraising and social-networking capabilities to energize his grass-roots campaign. And the moment he was sworn in as the 44th president of the United States, administration officials unveiled a sleek interactive version of Whitehouse.gov, the official White House Web site.

Recovery.gov, launched within hours of Obama's signing of the stimulus bill Tuesday, continues the theme of offering information in a user-friendly format.

Visitors are greeted by a brief video address from Obama.

"The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan represents a strategic and significant investment in our country's future," the president explains. "The size and scale of this plan demand unprecedented efforts to root out waste, inefficiency and unnecessary spending. Recovery.gov will be the online portal for these efforts."

The site will publish information on how the stimulus funds will be spent in a "timely, targeted and transparent manner," Obama said.

Edward Glaeser, a professor of economics at Harvard University, said transparency has "been a watch word for good government types for years."

"There is sense that taxpayers will feel a lot better about this if they actually know where their money is going," Glaeser said. "Better transparency makes evaluation much easier."

Glaeser pointed out that the idea behind Recovery.gov is not entirely new. He noted that the Office of Management and Budget has for years had a site where citizens can learn the available cost-benefit information of several government programs.

Clicking on "Where is Your Money Going" on the new site brings up a chart displaying key areas where the $787 billion will be distributed, including tax relief, energy, health care and infrastructure and science.

Under "Accountability and Transparency," there is a statement that reads, "This is your money. You have a right to know where it's going and how it's being spent. Learn what steps we're taking to ensure you can track our progress every step of the way."

Like other Obama online portals, the site encourages user interaction. The public is invited to share stories on how the Recovery Act is affecting them. Scrolling over a map of the United States reveals data on the number of jobs created and saved in each state.

Those with some time on their hands can also read, in its entirety, the full text of the legislation.