Stimulus website wins award despite early complaints

Recovery.gov, the federal website that shows how and where stimulus money is being spent around the country, received a Gold "ADDY" Award from the Ad Club of Metropolitan Washington.

Winning the local ADDY competition means Recovery.gov will go on to compete against winners from New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware in the regional contest.

"We are delighted to receive this award for the website, which the Recovery Board believes sets the standard for government transparency now and in the future," said Earl E. Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

Recovery.gov, which cost $6.8 million to build and maintain so far, launched in September to track the spending of the $787 billion stimulus package. It's been criticized from the beginning-- first for its slow development, then for lack of information, and later for inaccurate information.

For example, in June, the site showed a $1.19 million stimulus contract was awarded from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for two pounds of sliced ham. After media reports, USDA clarified that the contract was actually for 760,000 pounds of ham--rather than one extravagantly expensive ham.

But the incident showed a major weakness of the website: not conveying information in a clear and useful way.

"To be honest... it really shouldn’t be noteworthy that government lets us know how our money is spent -- our taxes are one of the only things Americans don’t get a receipt for after all -- and it’s definitely not appropriate to praise the transparency of new efforts like Recovery.gov if (this) is an example of how they implement," Sunlight Foundation wrote in a blog post.

The federal site has something of a rival in Recovery.org, a site run by Seattle-based firm Onvia. That site also tracks stimulus projects by keeping tabs on the awards announced around the country. Recovery.org launched six months earlier than the government's site.

No word yet on whether Onvia has won any awards for its site, but it will be ironic if the two sites ending up facing off in the National ADDY competition later this year.