White House Rankled by Recovery.gov

As the political battle over the Obama administration's stimulus plan escalates, Earl Devaney, the veteran inspector general charged with monitoring spending, is moving to establish his independence. Since becoming chair of the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board, Devaney has taken down a video of President Barack Obama from recovery.gov, the official Web site set up to track stimulus dollars. He's also mandated that the names of cabinet members not be mentioned—only their departments. "I'm trying to keep myself and the board out of the politics of this thing," he says.

As a result, the White House recently created the dueling whitehouse.gov/recovery, described as a Web site that will "tell the story of the nation's road to recovery." It's complete with a presidential video, photos of Vice President Joe Biden (who oversees the recovery effort), and a "recovery blog" on which administration officials post boosterish stories about "exciting" recovery successes. "As the Vice President says, 'It's going to be a busy summer!'" the site declares. "We'll be revving up the recovery engine getting more dollars out the door."

Biden spokesman James Carney insists that there are no extra costs to the White House effort because whitehouse.gov/recovery is really only a page on the general White House Web site. "From a message point of view, we feel we need to tell our story about the good the Recovery Act is doing," he says.

Questions about recovery Web operations intensified last week with the disclosure that a new $18 million contract had been awarded to a private firm, Smartronics, to overhaul recovery.gov. That followed criticism that the site was providing only sketchy data on where awards were going.

Devaney concedes that recovery.gov is "certainly not what the [Stimulus] Act envisioned." But he says the real test will come in October—the deadline for agencies to report stimulus spending—when he expects that users will be able to type in their ZIP codes and see exactly how money is being spent in their neighborhoods, down to the last subcontractor. At that point, he says, "there will be a million citizen IGs" who will help him monitor "if some local mayor has steered a contract to his brother-in-law." But he's not waiting: he recently gave Biden's office a list of stimulus projects with a "high risk" for fraud and has made "30 to 35" referrals about questionable awards to department inspectors general.