Commentary: Spending Stimulus to Track Stimulus

Where is the stimulus money going?

Well, almost $10 million of it went toward revamping the Web site that monitors the spending. That's right. The government spending money on how it monitors how it spends money. I know — a headache.

Stimulus Package
Stimulus Package

But in the era of "transparency", the Obama administration looks at it as a vital upgrade. Is it an actual upgrade?

Check out Recovery.govand decide for yourself. It will still make your head spin with the massive scope of data available, but at least there's a "feeling" that it's all there.

Some things to consider in case you want a quick primer before your procrastination-to-work ratio goes through the roof:

— Be sure your computer is up to the task. The mapping elements are interesting, dynamic and informative, but if you don't have the download speed, it'll be frustrating.

— You should absolutely take a look at the map that allows you to view stimulus information in your area. You can actually put in a zip code, and it takes you right there. In fact, it has a Google Maps-type function where you can literally zoom in to the specific location.

—There is a "Download Center", where you can get some help parsing through all the data. It allows you to isolate certain departments to see all the reports done as of today.

— Go back in two weeks and again in four. As recipients of funding report back to the government, the site should be updating with that information. It will be a definite test, both for the Recovery Act itself and for the system of reporting it.

Keep in mind that if you really want to learn what's going on, you have to have time and patience. The Web site, despite improvements, can easily make your eyes gloss over. There are just too many zeroes in 787,000,000.00.

Also, be prepared for several references to "transparency". The government is going to great lengths to try and account for everything. The quotation marks more than imply a little cynicism here, but in defense of, it's a difficult job, tracking thousands of contracts and projects.

If you want more of a third-party perspective — if you view journalists as better government watchdogs than the government itself — here are a few stories from across the country that we at found notable, some with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Texas, of course, is a huge state. However, there have been a lot of reports that it isn't receiving much funding. According to this report, if you adjust for population, 48 states have received more grant money from the Recovery Act.

We at CNBC are keeping a close eye on money spent to clean up contamination. There is a billion-dollar project in South Carolina that we are working to do a story on, but here is one from Minnesota. A good portion of it involves converting contaminated property into industrial or commercial real estate.

San Antonio International Airport is getting 14-million to improve its system for checking bags.

In Maine, some fisherman will get stimulus money to replace their old diesel engines.

In terms of accountability, October is a huge month. The government will be gathering and releasing data on recipient contracts, and with the new fiscal year, a new round of spending is set to begin.

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