The contract for the government's $18M USD transparency website, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, is ironically largely blacked out.  (Source: Propublica)
Amusing incident highlights ongoing struggle for government openness

When the Federal government released plans to launch a new transparency website that would detail how the Stimulus Law funds were being spent, many cheered the move.  However, those cheers quickly turned to noisy criticism when they heard the price tag to give the site a makeover -- over $18M USD.

Now the project has suffered another public relations mess.  Political blog ProPublica and other organizations have finally received copies of the contract for the site's development from the General Services Administration under the Freedom of Information Act.  And amazingly, the contract for the website for government openness is censored, leaving behind largely a mess of blacked out lines, rendering it "virtually useless" by ProPublica's assessment.

Ed Pound, the director of communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, scoffed at the criticism, saying that the redactions were "legitimate".  He dismissively commented, "I’m not concerned about whether journalists are concerned about this.  We have been very transparent."

According to the Freedom of Information Act, redactions to government contracts are allowed in cases where the information's release would cause "substantial risk of competitive injury" to the contractor.

Among the pages that have been redacted are:
  • the project’s management structure; (pg 57)
  • pages describing a mysterious “Strategic Advisory Council”; (pg 62)
  • quality assurance procedures; (pg 66)
  • five pages on user experience; (pg 85)
  • site navigation; (pg 81)
  • four unidentified pages on which everything, even section headings, have been redacted; (pg 98)
  • the document’s entire pricing table, including function, vendor, model, part ID, detail and quantity; (pg 103)
  • the contract’s warranty agreement. (pg 121)
The technical proposal portion of the document -- the central component -- has 25 of its 59 pages completely removed.  And 14 other pages have at least half of their content blacked out.

Lucy Dalglish, executive director of Washington, D.C.-based Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press sums up both the irony and unsettling nature of the report, stating, "I think it’s on the one hand funny, but on the other hand frightening.  How are you going to keep these people’s feet to the fire? You can’t evaluate whether or not they delivered on the contract unless you know what they promised to deliver. That’s just nuts."

“Then they pop up and say ‘Hello, surprise! Give us your money or we will shut you down!' Screw them. Seriously, screw them. You can quote me on that.” -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng referencing patent trolls

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