Sunlight Foundation plans to bid on Recovery.gov

Friday - 6/19/2009, 5:25pm EDT

Clay Johnson of Sunlight Labs

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By Dorothy Ramienski
Internet Editor
FederalNewsRadio

The Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board is working on the next generation of the Recovery.gov Web site.

The site is where the Obama administration is tracking where the stimulus spending is going.

The Board is going to issue a request for proposal (RFP) for that project, but the non-profit Sunlight Foundation has already announced that they are going to bid on it.

Clay Johnson is the director of Sunlight Labs.

He explains how his organization got involved in the process.

"[The RFP] was sent out to GSA Alliant governmentwide contractors. This was never published publicly on the Web. We managed to get our hands on a paper copy, scanned it in, put it on the Internet and said -- 'Hey, we;re just going to bid on this. Even though we;re not eligible, we're still going to bid and we're going to invite the community to bid with us'."

Johnson says the Sunlight Foundation started a wiki in order to get outside ideas for writing their proposal. In addition, he notes they did reach out to Alliant contractors in the hopes of getting them on board, too.

Johnson says his group had a very good reason for doing what they did.

"We need to shed light on the government contracting process, and what better way than to inject ourselves into it? Part of the problem, we think, is that it's too complicated. . . . So, we said we're just going to plunge into it head first and invite people to join us in it."

Sunlight Labs also plans to blog about the process. Johnson notes that the organization fully expects to be rejected, but that is part of the point of the exercise.

"When we bid on this, the Recovery, Accountability and Transparency Board will say, 'Sorry, you're not eligible.' But maybe we can convince one of these contractors to join us in this process. . . . The win for us may be that one of these contractors recognizes the business opportunity here and [says], 'Hey, wait a minute, if we are open and transparent, that will make us look better and give us a better opportunity of actually getting this contract.' From the Sunlight Foundation perspective, getting a contractor to engage in a completely open process for bidding on this Web site is a gigantic win for us."

Another ideal goal, Johnson says, involves crowdsourcing. He says companies are more than welcome to go to the Sunlight Labs wiki and click on 'edit' to share their ideas.

The wiki has already gotten visitors.

"People are helping outline the process and contributing their expertise. So, we've gotten a lot of -- 'Hey, you know you're not eligible for this, right?'"

Despite that, Johnson says people are chipping in and sharing ideas.

He also says that he is a bit shocked that the rfp from the Board was not made public, despite the fact that only the 59 Alliant contractors can actually bid on it.

"I think that the government should release that information to the general public no matter what. . . . That being said, there's probably bureaucracy and regulation here that we don't know about or have the experience with. So, I'll give them a pass -- I won't complain too much about it, but it's still sort of shocking to me that the only place you can get this online is where we put it up."

Johnson says he is currently focused on finishing his bid and turning it into the Board.

He also notes that he already considers the project somewhat of a success because of the number of people and groups who have already contributed to the wiki online.

"I think the other side of the coin here is, even if we don't get this contract, even if we find no one to partner with us . . . the community, through an open process, will have created a bid for Recovery.gov for us to compare to whoever eventually gets the Recovery.gov contract."

FederalNewsRadio did talk to the recovery board's spokesman. He tells us that the RFP is still in the works, and that it won't be official until it is released and posted by the board.

FederalNewsRadio will continue to follow this story as it develops.

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On the Web:

Sunlight Labs -- We are going to bid on Recovery.gov

White House -- Recovery.gov

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