Over the weekend I was poking around in the recipient-reported data at recovery.gov. I filtered the New Hampshire spreadsheet down to items for my town, Keene, and was a bit surprised to find no descriptions in many cases. Here’s the breakdown:
|# of awards||25|
|# of awards with descriptions||05||20%|
|# of awards without descriptions||20||80%|
|$ of awards||10,940,770|
|$ of awards with descriptions||1,260,719||12%|
|$ of awards without descriptions||9,680,053||88%|
In this case, the half-dozen largest awards aren’t described:
|EE00161||2,601,788||Sothwestern Community Services Inc|
|S394A090030||1,471,540||Keene School District|
|AIP #3-33-SBGP-06-2009||1,298,500||City of Keene|
|2W-33000209-0||1,129,608||City of Keene|
|2F-96102301-0||666,379||City of Keene|
|2F-96102301-0||655,395||City of Keene|
|0901NHCOS2||600,930||Sothwestern Community Services Inc|
|2009RKWX0608||459,850||Department of Justice||KEENE, CITY OF||The COPS Hiring Recovery Program (CHRP) provides funding directly to law enforcement agencies to hire and/or rehire career law enforcement officers in an effort to create and preserve jobs, and to increase their community policing capacity and crime prevention efforts.|
|NH36S01050109||413,394||Department of Housing and Urban Development||KEENE HOUSING AUTHORITY||ARRA Capital Fund Grant. Replacement of roofing, siding, and repair of exterior storage sheds on 29 public housing units at a family complex|
That got me wondering: Where does the money go? So I built a little app that explores ARRA awards for any city or town: http://elmcity.cloudapp.net/arra. For most places, it seems, the ratio of awards with descriptions to awards without isn’t quite so bad. In the case of Philadelphia, for example, “only” 27% of the dollars awarded ($280 million!) are not described.
But even when the description field is filled in, how much does that tell us about what’s actually being done with the money? We can’t expect to find that information in a spreadsheet at recovery.gov. The knowledge is held collectively by the many people who are involved in the projects funded by these awards.
If we want to materialize a view of that collective knowledge, the ARRA data provides a useful starting point. Every award is identified by an award number. These are, effectively, webscale identifiers — that is, more-or-less unique tags we could use to collate newspaper articles, blog entries, tweets, or any other online chatter about awards.
To promote this idea, the app reports award numbers as search strings. In Keene, for example, the school district got an award for $1.47 million. The award number is S394A090030. If you search for that you’ll find nothing but a link back to a recovery.gov page entitled Where is the Money Going?
Recovery.gov can’t bootstrap itself out of this circular trap. But if we use the tags that it has helpfully provided, we might be able to find out a lot more about where the money is going.