Engaging Citizens in Oversight
There’s a great lead article by Elise Castelli in this week’s Federal Times, “Feds to Empower ‘Citizen IGs’ to Watch Stimulus Spending.” This is a real experiment in the ultimate use of crowdsourcing – providing the data on spending via recovery.gov and letting on-the-ground citizens to help interpret and make sense of it in their communities.
Recovery oversight chairman Earl Devaney realizes that even with a boost of $355 million in spending for the inspectors general across the government, this would not be enough to keep track of the $787 billion in stimulus monies. He was quoted as saying “My inclination is to throw everything up there for everyone to see.”
But Devaney is not just reacting to citizen reports. Castelli notes that IGs are “employing data-mining tools to find patterns in data that may flag a problem.” And she quote Devaney saying “Police departments have Officer Friendly, who comes around and suggests things to do to prevent your house from getting burglaraized. We’re adopting that approach.”
While the Inspectors General are seemingly revolutionizing their approach, this “new way of doing business” is reinforced by Vice President Biden who, according to Government Executive, is encouraging “federal agencies to incorporate into their daily operations the business practices they have instituted to meet the Recovery Act's transparency, efficiency and accountability requirements.”
A Federal Times editorial (which is only in their hardcopy), however, says that these initiatives are “not without risk. No one knows how many leader and accusations could emerge from greater public access to government spending data. . . the risk, on the other hand, is that the public, whether intentionally or inadvertently, overwhelms auditors and inspectors general with frivolous, inaccurate or potentially malicious accusations.”
This will be a grand test of “the wisdom of crowds!”