Uncle Sam's IT dashboard: Your tax dollars at work

U.S. citizens have a brand-new tool to gauge how well their government is performing -- at least, when it comes to IT. Cringely says it's about time.

Want to know exactly where all those ducats you reluctantly turned over to our Uncle in Washington are going? Things just got a little clearer today, at least in terms of our tech taxes.

Today at the Personal Democracy Forum in New York City, federal tech czar Vivek Kundra unveiled the new IT Dashboard at USAspending.gov, which shows you exactly where all those sawbucks are flowing, in dollar amounts that could make you dizzy.

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Even if you don't care a whit about tech or government, it's a damned impressive tool. You see not only how much of our annual $74 billion IT budget is flowing to each agency, but which projects it's flowing to, which contractors are raking in the most of it, which projects are on track, and which ones are swirling down the toilet. (You can even watch a video demo of it.)

In true Web 2.0 fashion, the site lets you embed the charts in your own blog or post them to Twitter, Facebook, or Delicious. Next week it plans to launch a blog where ordinary citizens can comment. Approximately two seconds after that, the first flame war between the Obamanistas and the Obama-haters will erupt.

Web 2.0 papa Tim O'Reilly immediately tagged the move "radical transparency." He writes:

The dashboards are an incredibly ambitious undertaking. In the first place, there has never been a government-wide view like this of all IT spending, and the progress of projects. What's even more remarkable, though, is that the dashboards are being shared with the public. It's a bit like having your performance review posted on the company bulletin board for all to see.

For example: O'Reilly notes that of the Veteran's Administration's $2.6 billion worth of 2009 projects, nearly half are behind schedule and 63 percent have "significant concerns." It's the kind of information bound to make any IT manager feel a little better about his or her own budgets, and every taxpayer more than a little queasy.

In a culture like D.C., where turf wars are everything and secrecy is standard operating procedure, not everybody wants to play out in the open. Per the Washington Post:

Launching a site that makes spending practices open to the public met some opposition from the agencies' chief information officers and government contractors, some of whom were nervous about letting citizens who aren't familiar with the contracting process and technology needs of the government judge the spending decisions. Kundra said he met with every agency and dozens of company executives over the past six weeks.

"I talked to the CIO Council and saw the data change overnight," Kundra said. "It was cleaned up immediately when people realized it was going to be made public."

So far, only four of the 26 agency CIOs have evaluated 100 percent of their projects, according to the site. But this train has left the station, so the agencies have 30 days to either jump on board or get left behind.

The hope, of course, is that the IT dashboard proves so successful in a) casting sunlight on the spending process and b) making agencies clean up their act, that it gets extended to all government spending. So for the first time in our nation's 233-year history, we might truly be able to see our tax dollars at work. That's a nice wish for a Fourth of July weekend.

Is the federal IT dashboard a giant leap forward or just a gimmick? Post your thoughts below or e-mail me direct: cringe@infoworld.com.

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