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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."

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This isn't news, it's Fed Contract Laws
By sparkuss on 8/14/2009 9:47:31 AM , Rating: 3
If these were competitive sealed bids then the bidders do not get to see each others proposal. Only the approvers of the winning bid gets to see them all.

Unless the losing companies want to challenge their loss would they get to question the winning bid.

Unless the American public is going to be legally, go-to-jail, responsible for approving every federal contract, leave it to the professionals that are. If you have evidence of illegal contract activity there are several 800 numbers to report it to.

Even with total promised transparency there is still going to be a level of opacity that is already part of established laws.

By FITCamaro on 8/14/2009 10:21:48 AM , Rating: 5
While I somewhat agree with you, looking through the document, there are many things blacked out that do not need to be.

Just on the page DT has attached to this article, they're talking about personnel. Why does that need to be kept secret? This is much of section 3 of the document.

Why does information on how the site navigates need to be hidden? There are some sections where not even the section header is shown. Pages 85-89 and 98-101 are completely blacked out with no information as to what's even being covered. I can understand areas of technical approach being blacked out. But shouldn't we at least know what the topic of a section is that's blacked out?

RE: This isn't news, it's Fed Contract Laws
By SiliconDoc on 8/14/2009 11:38:46 AM , Rating: 5
This isn't the pre-selection process, this is post secret bid, PUBLIC 18 MILLION DOLLAR taxpayer's money CONTRACT SHEET.
Sorry, but you're pretending this is all before any bidding was accepted and various competitors could gain an advantage knowing what their competition offered over them, or at what price.
NICE TRY, but this is POST BID, already selected, AFINAL CONTRACT that tax dollars paid for, and they're still hiding anything and everything they feel like.
What this tells all of us who aren't blind fealty morons like you seem to be is: " The Government will spend and waste tax dollars in whatever corrupt insider deal and manipulations manner it so desires, and there's not a damn thing you the public can do about it, and, no matter how many laws designed for you to find out what we're hiding you take advantage of, we, the Government, have the absolute upper hand, and you the servile taxed masses have zero say, and zero information we deem dangerous, since it could expose our sickening, traitorous corruption.
Next, the very same entities will be on some boobtube newstard quip self-praising their glorious protection of the public and upholding the public's right to know.
It's amazing they make it through the day without someone in their immediate circle pummelling them into the turf.

RE: This isn't news, it's Fed Contract Laws
By Entropy42 on 8/14/2009 3:59:05 PM , Rating: 2
It doesn't matter that its post bid. Companies work to establish good proposal formatting and content, and don't want other companies to know their "winning formula." Companies that compete for this contract are likely to compete against each other again for future contracts. So the fact that it is post bid doesn't make a huge difference. Post bid for one contract is still pre bid for the next one.

- Blind fealty moron #2

By SiliconDoc on 8/14/2009 6:00:27 PM , Rating: 4
Exactly the idiotic attitude one needs, to keep government expenses sky high, and insider shenanigans an absolute certainty.
No doubt we have a real problem in our society nowadays, whereby people who consider themselves thoughtful or learned to ajny degree, will chop off everyone foot so long as they can pretend they have a lick of sense.
The GOVERNMENT IS SPENDING OUR MONEY, and all public bidders should have the ADVANTAGE of knowing what the government requires or favors, and the rest of us SHOULD HAVE THE RIGHT TO COMMENT AND CRITIQUE that spending, and watchdog the insider deal making and wasteful pocket lining.
It's amazing how STUPID people are nowadays.

By tastyratz on 8/14/2009 11:44:39 PM , Rating: 3
Sure it makes a huge difference.
This is a website dedicated to public open-ness. This is not some corporate competitive advantage, this is a government contract. This contract should be established under the pretense that it will be entirely exposed to the public. They should know what they are getting into, and provisions/riders/etc. should be added by the government allowing complete and total disclosure. If you don't want the contract terms then don't bid. This is clearly within reasonable grounds and reach.

If your diabetic don't ask to be a pie judge at the state fair - but I wanna know whats in every goddamn pie (no redacted mystery pie).

RE: This isn't news, it's Fed Contract Laws
By sparkuss on 8/14/2009 4:12:23 PM , Rating: 2
Blind Fealty? So what exactly are YOU public citizen going to do about it? At what point are YOU going change one thing about that contract?

If you voted in any prior election, YOU voted to give the government the powers to make YOUR decisions FOR you.

If not then go start your own country were only YOU make all the nations contract decisions.

As a former AF member with some of those responsibilities, which I took an oath to uphold honorably, I will continue to respect that there are members that replaced me that conduct their duties with the same honor. I'll give the same respect to higher levels of government until Proven otherwise.

So I'll give you the non-name-calling benefit one more time, if YOU aren't satisfied with the legality of that contract, do whatever YOU as a citizen wants to do to prove it illegal in any some form and have someone prosecuted.

RE: This isn't news, it's Fed Contract Laws
By SiliconDoc on 8/14/2009 6:08:03 PM , Rating: 1
ROFLMAO - FORMER AF explains plenty. So does your arrogant and STUPID "public citizen" comment.
It is clear we have another IDIOT with no honor, no sense, and a big fat arrogant "do something about it" attitude, the same problem we have in all our government servants - criminals most of them.
I guess we're a bit past the point when people have a lick of honesty or common sense.
Glad the AF got rid of you. Our nation is definitely the better for it.
" If you voted in any prior election, YOU voted to give the government the powers to make YOUR decisions FOR you.
That shows me what a COMPLETE IDIOT you are. Voting doesn't vote away the public's rights, nor my rights, nor does it GIVE the government ANYTHING, let alone "ability to make decisions for me" - you FOOL. Wether I vote or not, the government wilL be there ANYWAY, YOU DUMMY.
Thanks for being so stupid, you don't deserve to be here.

By sparkuss on 8/14/2009 7:37:56 PM , Rating: 2
Guess there's no intelligence left in talking to you either, you obviously believe your the only person in this country that can save us from all your imagined boogey men.

I guess we'll just wait to see you standing on the corner with your "don't tread on me" sign.

Have fun in that malignant universe you live in.

Is competitive injury that important?
By nafhan on 8/14/2009 9:33:50 AM , Rating: 2
I don't think so. Unless it's a national security issue (which this isn't), they need to have this document completely transparent. Otherwise, this website is going to lose all credibility before they even turn it on.
At this point, I'm expecting cost overruns and "steering committee" infighting to prevent this website from ever going live and/or meeting it's goals of providing any government transparency.

RE: Is competitive injury that important?
By FITCamaro on 8/14/2009 10:14:37 AM , Rating: 3
You assume our entire government has any credibility left to lose. Much less a single site run by the government.

RE: Is competitive injury that important?
By nafhan on 8/14/2009 3:52:02 PM , Rating: 2
Nope, but every once in a while, I get my hopes up that it will gain some credibility.

By AEvangel on 8/14/2009 4:14:05 PM , Rating: 2
Stop's pointless when dealing with the Federal Government.

By Spivonious on 8/14/2009 9:08:16 AM , Rating: 1
Theoretically the only reason to black out sections would be for national security. Is the management structure of a web page designed to accessible by everyone really a matter of national security?

Where is the transparency that B.O. promised?

RE: Huh?
By FITCamaro on 8/14/2009 10:22:56 AM , Rating: 3
Dying in the same gutter as his promise of fiscal responsibility.

RE: Huh?
By rtrski on 8/15/2009 9:59:55 AM , Rating: 2
Where is the transparency that B.O. promised?

You misunderstood. The audacious dishonesty of his promise itself was meant to be transparent.

By MrPoletski on 8/14/2009 8:57:12 AM , Rating: 5
who says americans can't understand Irony!

Reminds me of...
By Jason H on 8/14/2009 1:09:19 PM , Rating: 4
Sir Humphrey: "How are things at the Campaign for the Freedom of Information, by the way?"
Sir Arnold: "Sorry, I can't talk about that."

By Screwballl on 8/14/2009 4:06:27 PM , Rating: 2
We have been very transparent.

Yes you have, we see right through you taking our hard earned money and wasting it on shit that none of us want our money to go towards.

In other news
By borowki2 on 8/15/2009 7:19:24 PM , Rating: 2
We have always been at war with Eurasia.

"I'd be pissed too, but you didn't have to go all Minority Report on his ass!" -- Jon Stewart on police raiding Gizmodo editor Jason Chen's home

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