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Serious Design Failure At USAspending.gov?

Soulskill posted more than 4 years ago | from the your-tax-dollars-at-work dept.

Government 207

theodp writes "Over at Intelligent Enterprise, Seth Grimes declares the Federal Government's USAspending.gov website a travesty, calling it 'almost a parody of a government-transparency site.' Among the faults cited by Grimes is a botched 'Federal Spending FY 2009 YTD' pie chart that graced USAspending.gov's home page. Not only were the sizes of pie segments not in proportion to the percentage labels (due to a Google Chart API error), the colors in the pie chart didn't even match the colors and values in the table immediately below the chart. Lucky for the Feds, Grimes didn't get a chance to look behind the curtain at the Federal IT Dashboard, where they forgot to remove a (commented) reference to a Google spreadsheet that states 'These totals are pretty poor numbers' (Google workbook). Oops!"

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Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (5, Insightful)

eldavojohn (898314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284439)

Having never done this before, the government is bound to have problems. All of them do when they try new things. I can bear with them for some incorrectly rendered pie charts or -- gasp! -- an informative comment about the numbers being pretty poor. Sorry to sound so apologetic but I'll give the idea of transparency and A and the implementation a C-. So what? The numbers are there.

Because what did we have before? Data via third parties that had to use a FOIA and sit and wait for it? Numbers that were years old? Or we had to visit 50 state sites that were all laid out differently and aggregate the data? And we're ripping on usaspending.gov for design flaws? Okay, from a web developer's standpoint these are pretty egregious errors but so what?

At least it reads "These totals are pretty poor numbers." and not "We really had to cook the books to get this to look right." Hell, now you know where to start looking if you want to do what you should be doing: criticizing the government based on their spending and IT (mis)management!

How would you react if the next president did away with usaspending.gov? Happy that the travesty of a parody site is gone?

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (3, Informative)

synthparadox (770735) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284599)

I agree. When I first read the title, "Serious" jumped out at me (possibly with the assistance of being the first word), and luckily for me I actually RTFA'd. Speaking for myself and more than likely any one who's done any web programming, a minor mistake of data passing being in the incorrect format for the Google APIs to digest is much much less than a "serious" design failure. In fact, its not a design failure at all. Its a code error, and luckily (or possibly unluckily) for the guys at USAspending.gov, Google's APIs don't just segfault out and crash the page, instead they try to parse it in a "is this what you wanted?" sort of way.

TL:DR - its not serious, its not a design failure, its a coding bug, and as TFA says its a 2-3 line fix. Not newsworthy if you ask me.

Pie Charts (4, Interesting)

chrb (1083577) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284847)

I'm surprised the guy rips into the bug calling the Google API and even says "Here's the government's chart done right" without mentioning that piecharts are a bad way to represent comparative data like this in the first place [informatio...gement.com] 3D pie charts may look fancy, but they make it more difficult to compare the actual data (which is supposed to be the whole point of plotting it). They are even worse than 2D barcharts, at least with 2D you are only looking at data being relative to slice area, and not being rendered at an angle - look at the edge in the plot he uses [google.com] , there's as much if not more purple on display as the supposedly larger green slice. What's wrong with a bar chart for visualising comparative data like this? Surely it would give the reader a much more informed quick overview of spending?

Re:Pie Charts (1)

commodore64_love (1445365) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285973)

I don't see any problem with using a piechart, so long as the chart is lying flat such that the areas are relative to one another. You do have to be careful to avoid using bright colors (white, green) cause the eyes are more sensitive to these, but otherwise I think a piechart is a fine way to represent different sizes of things.

The main problem with USAspending.gov is that different people have different views on things. Ever wonder why one group will say, "Military spending is 20%" while another claims it's 60%? It's because not everyone agrees on the definition of "military" and will create varying groups.

I think for true transparency the government needs to present differing views from multiple studies. Otherwise if they only present ONE view, which happens to be favorable to the president or congress, you cannot really trust it.

Re:Pie Charts (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286453)

I'm a big fan of flat pie charts. Also, something like a 3D pie chart makes it easier to spin the appearance for whatever reason.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284883)

TL:DR - its not serious, its not a design failure, its a coding bug, and as TFA says its a 2-3 line fix. Not newsworthy if you ask me.

Sure it's a coding bug, but seriously, if you know anything about a pie chart, wouldn't you look at it and think something is wrong and try to figure out what's wrong with your code? Is there no Q/A to make sure everything works and look right? Is this why so many software project fail? If it runs it must be correct!

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (2, Informative)

noidentity (188756) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284901)

It[']s a code error, and luckily (or possibly unluckily) for the guys at USAspending.gov, Google's APIs don't just segfault out and crash the page, instead they try to parse it in a "is this what you wanted?" sort of way

It should at least flag these errors (see Postel's Law [wikipedia.org] ). Maybe it does; just wanted to note that there is something between "reject" and "accept without even a warning".

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (4, Insightful)

garcia (6573) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284709)

In the end, the graphical representation of data is nearly always skewed, whether intentionally or not and in the end, as long as the underlying data is available (and many time, especially in government it is not) you can do you own charts to determine what is correct.

While the layperson (or CEO) likes pretty pictures and big flashy dashboards that have little green and red and black arrows to show what's going on, it's not transparent until you can get your hands on the data itself. Being that I have fought with local governments and state/federally funded groups for years to give me the underlying data (and not some self-created aggregation), I applaud any effort to give us what we need.

Yay.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (4, Interesting)

Gazzonyx (982402) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284761)

Seriously.

We should be happy that they even were aware that their numbers were poor. That means that someone is, at the least, paying attention if not objectively analyzing the data. The fact that it is a government agency makes it that much more astounding (IE. it's not going to make a difference in their paycheck or pension most likely).

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (1, Troll)

q-the-impaler (708563) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285521)

That's a big problem with government: they don't compensate high performers appropriately. Furthermore, they routinely compensate poor performers and promote them out of departments.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (2, Insightful)

LKM (227954) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286029)

And that is different from private company exactly not at all. There's a reason why both CEOs and politicians often tend to be sociopaths whose main goal seems to be to fill their own coffers. It's not unique to the government at all.

The government screws up. So do private companies. The government does great things. So do private companies. I've yet to see objective data telling me that private companies are inherently better at something compared to "the government". Both are run by humans.

In fact, where comparisons can be made because something is done by both the government and by private companies (train systems, health service, road service), the government typically tends to kick private companies' asses. That's not to say that I want to live in communist russia, quite the opposite. Private companies offer the advantage of competition; no government can tolerate a competing government. My point is merely that governments aren't inherently worse than private companies. Both have their place; private companies make sense where competition is possible and useful, governments make sense where competition is impossible or hurtful.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286271)

As a government scientist, this has not been my experience. At least in the lower and middle levels of government. In fact, the way promotions are determined is fairly meritocratic thanks to all that *gasp* cold statistical bureaucracy getting in the way of the good-ol'-boy clubs. Most of the problems in government come from the layer of employees who are political appointees, not the career folks.

Criticize inexperience and naivette (0, Troll)

mi (197448) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284857)

Having never done this before, the government is bound to have problems.

Of course! This is true about Obama himself — the man has never had any executive experience, except for chairing a failed charity project (together with an ex-terrorist, khmm...).

But whenever this lack of experience was pointed out last year, the shrieks of the "we are the ones we've been waiting for" crowd drowned it out, who wanted their n00b elected without questioning, what the "Change" is going to mean...

Now, when the most technologically-advanced Presidency — remember all the endearing stories about his Blackberry, and the ridiculing of McCain's reluctance to use e-mail? — can't put a web-site together, "having never done this before" is an excuse...

Re:Criticize inexperience and naivette (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285165)

Even worse: he still doesn't have any executive experience. If you objectively look at his role, he seems to be a very week president.

Re:Criticize inexperience and naivette (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285503)

Even worse: he still doesn't have any executive experience. If you objectively look at his role, he seems to be a very week president.

Yes. We certainly deserve a month president.

Re:Criticize inexperience and naivette (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286139)

Even worse: he still doesn't have any executive experience. If you objectively look at his role, he seems to be a very week president.

Yes. We certainly deserve a month president.

Yes!! Mothra for President!!!one!

Oh wait. You said month.

Never Mind.

Re:Criticize inexperience and naivette (1)

Halotron1 (1604209) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285707)

Now, when the most technologically-advanced Presidency â" remember all the endearing stories about his Blackberry, and the ridiculing of McCain's reluctance to use e-mail? â" can't put a web-site together, "having never done this before" is an excuse...

Pretty sure he's still the most technically advanced president.
He didn't put the website together himself obviously, unless you think he spends his afternoons in the basement of the whitehouse installing Linux and playing X-Box?
Odds are not.

It's more of a failure of the "Office of E-Government & Information Technology [whitehouse.gov] " than a failure of the man himself.
And I can pretty much guarantee you that since the site hit slashdot's news, he probably knows about it, and somebody at e-gov is going to get smacked.

Seriously though, do you really think McCain would have done better at this?

Seriously??

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0, Troll)

rindeee (530084) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284873)

Seriously?! You're going to give "the Government" a pass on this? Considering "the Government" spent several of the $15 million allocated to S. 2590 on this bloody web-site and gave this money to an outside consultant to build it, it ought to be damn perfect. It's not as though a bunch of noob's from the Obama administration sat down and hammered out this website out of the kindness of their hearts. This cost you and I a great deal of money. Something as out-front and key as this chart should have at least passed a sniff test before being published. Obviously no one gave this thing so much as a serious glance before publishing it to the site.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (3, Interesting)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284877)

Heh. I read the bit about incorrect colors and sizes of pie slices, and laughed. I can't read a color coded chart anyway. GIVE ME A BAR GRAPH DAMMIT! Better yet, just post the numbers. ;^)

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285043)

> Better yet, just post the numbers

They do.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (1)

bendodge (998616) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286479)

Mint.com gives very nice pie chart with lines coming from the slices to the labels. Much better than a colored squares key.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0, Troll)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284989)

Yes. These problems are entirely caused by 8 years of failed policies. You can't really expect to see the positive changes from reversing those failed policies of the Bush administration until at least... January of 2012.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285185)

Post, sure, but at least get it right. The deregulation of business that spawned the beast this country will be dealing with for the next forty years was engendered in the Clinton Administration. They meant well, but didn't realize how ethically corrupt big businesses are. It's a game to them, really, 'How much money can I accumulate?' Of course, they were aided and abetted by a spineless, intellectually bankrupt Congress and a witless President (that was re-elected, remember.) But the heart of the beast was the quants. Their adulation of numbers allow them to divorce economics from suffering. Because they identify with math more than humanity they think their craft is Science, and can predict when someone is hungry enough to pick up a stone and smash a shop window. You'll see someday how wrong they are.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0, Troll)

HangingChad (677530) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285101)

Having never done this before, the government is bound to have problems.

Exactly. We've had problems on commercial sites that came close to some of those, at least they're trying.

After 8 years of lies, no bid contracts to insiders and a near total lack of accountability, it's encouraging to see even tentative steps toward budget transparency.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (-1, Troll)

oldwarrior (463580) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285753)

>>>After 8 years of lies, no bid contracts to insiders and a near total lack of accountability
Ahem, as recent events have shown we are entering into the next eight years of lies (Heathcare), insider corruption (apointees), and lack of accountability (unread-but-approved phonebook size legislation).

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (2, Informative)

LKM (227954) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286045)

What healthcare lies are you referring to? Perhaps the lies spread by the Republicans? You can hardly blame the administration for those.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (5, Insightful)

ljaszcza (741803) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285245)

I agree that the title is inflammatory. But. I'll take issue with the statement "The numbers are there". Well, the numbers are wrong. So, they are not useful unless you do a lot of work to figure out the errors. Then there is the issue of the govt. releasing the contract to revamp the recovery.gov website. Almost entirely redacted and given to someone (Smartronix), a company that specializes in security, does not even mention web design on it's page... (http://www.nextgov.com/nextgov/ng_20090803_2176.php). A $18m contract. All this does not bode well for transparency and accountability. I suppose what really bites is that if I were to produce incorrect data for a IRS inspector, my life would probably be destroyed by fines and reprisals. I can just imagine giving the IRS redacted copies of my business contracts. The fun would be short lived. Why do we, the citizens and taxpayers, accept this crap from people that want to run more and more of our lives? /rant

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285613)

Mod ^

Isn't this the site they spent 18M on? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285259)

Don't mean to be a prick, but isn't this the new "transparency" site that the gov. supposedly spend 18M on?

The company they hired to do this could have at least had the courtesy to double-check their work!

How do I get a government contract!? Crazy.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (-1, Offtopic)

oldwarrior (463580) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285347)

Indeed. Hey, here's an idea. Let's turn over control of our personal healthcare decisions to these clowns. Whee!

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286189)

Or you could turn it over to the people who already run a healthcare system with a 2% overhead instead of a 35% overhead. Oh wait, that probably doesn't fit inside your make up my mind first, get the data later way of thinking.

Re:Criticize the Numbers Not the Presentation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285455)

Um that can very well be the same thing.

"These are poor numbers to show" can be Corporate speak in a meeting meaning, "these are our cooked numbers, the real ones will be disclosed later"

read some of the stuff on Madoff on how they used a type of corperate speak to hide what they were doing when talking about it openly.

oookay (4, Informative)

nomadic (141991) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284465)

Read the blog article, and I think that a better title for this slashdot article would be "minor design failure."

Whatever. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284479)

It's good enough for Government work.

Re:Whatever. (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284979)

Isn't is possible that the graph simply accurately reflects the government's level awareness of its own spendings? That would make a lot of sense.

urlfail (0, Offtopic)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284521)

Why do I care about the details of US Snake-bummers?

Re:urlfail (-1)

Canazza (1428553) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284935)

Troll? Seriously? Do I need to spell it out? US Asp enders?

Re:urlfail (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285017)

Why do I care about the details of US Snake-bummers?

Asks the person who went out of his way to comment about said lack-of-interest.

Let us say that typing for one hour takes 100 calories (or kCal if you want to be more specific). I presume that it took you about 30 seconds to compose that message. Sixty seconds in a minute, Sixty minutes in an hour, that makes about 120 thirty-second chunks in every passing of the "little hand" on an analog clock. I'm going to fudge the numbers here and say that you burned about 1 calorie composing your message.

An intrinsically deep piece of commentary about your lack of interest in United States events. But, not unlike a moth to a flame, you were drawn in. You had to comment.

Your fingers, trembling under the pressure of moderation. Could you make a trollish jab and gain some sympathy points? "Yes, I can!" you said to yourself.

So you burned away that one little calorie, typed up the quoted message (as well as its captcha), and you pressed send. Do you feel any lighter now? A pound of fat is 3500 calories. If you could average about ten of those quips per day, you could remove from yourself one pound of body fat per year (presuming a healthy and steady diet).

Or, you could fucking use your time for something more important than being a dick on the internet.

Have a good day.

Design Failure? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284533)

Or by design?

The government will give you the appearance of transparency, never real transparency.

And if they do ever pass that fed audit, you will never get the real numbers.

The fed will never reveal to the world and debt buyers that is just another underwater bank.

Light is the best disinfectant and government is an infection.

Re:Design Failure? (2, Funny)

insertwackynamehere (891357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284655)

Light you say? Folks I think we have an Illuminatus in our midst.

Re:Design Failure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284905)

Yea really, who cares?

a) Nobody expects competent work from governments.
b) Even if it works, it's only for show and data is forged.

So, who cares? The worse it is, the less tax money was wasted on it. After all the budget went down the drain due to nepotism and other frauds, they'd have had to request even more to get it done by a real developer. So yea ... good for taxpayers ... at least relatively good ...

The Important Thing is Existence (4, Interesting)

steve_thatguy (690298) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284559)

In terms of government it is considerably harder to make bring these things into existence and to remove them once they're already there. Changing it after it already exists is trivial. And that's what's important and significant about this: it exists. The general population has facilitated access to something that was obscure and hidden behind a wall of government before. This may not seem like much but I think the successful creation of this type of transparency throughout the government, and if possible embedding it systemically into government processes, that we will see a great improvement in terms of freedom, success, and efficiency of our government.

It's similar to the way open source applications always get bugs patched faster than commercial implementations--crowdsourcing is a good way to catch errors. That will undoubtedly apply to government as well, especially when many politicians make their living relying on their practices being obscured from the public.

Re:The Important Thing is Existence (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285353)

It opens information, but not decision-making. That has yet to have any real input from the people. See this link from a yesterday SD article: http://metagovernment.org/wiki/Open_source_governance [metagovernment.org]

Re:The Important Thing is Existence (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286201)

"The important thing is existence." Why does the execution not matter? So it will only be important for the existence of a national health care program.....

A step in the right direction (4, Interesting)

proslack (797189) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284585)

One of the first items on USAspending's page states "A journey towards greater Transparency and Accountability...". Seems to me like the site is a work in progress and will improve with time.

They are merely tallying points (3, Insightful)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284729)

its not like they are out to be serious. If they were the same government promising more openness would not be ramming near trillion dollar bills through Congress without a chance for public discussion, let alone reading of by the voting parties.

then again, change might mean soliciting bids for a system to systematically scrape all non-hidden data on popular sites like facebook and myspace https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=eec856940efb75b2b1c11e2b1d5660a4&tab=core&_cview=0&cck=1&au=&ck= [fbo.gov]

Change we can believe in, with all these CZARs the only thing apparent is that the public isn't paying attention to the other hand

Re:They are merely tallying points (3, Informative)

M. Baranczak (726671) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285153)

a system to systematically scrape all non-hidden data on popular sites like facebook and myspace

Did you even read that link? The job it describes consists of archiving all the web content produced by the EOP (Executive Office of the President). Where does it say anything about facebook or myspace? Is it after the secret paragraphs that talk about the death panels and hiding the President's birth certificate?

Re:They are merely tallying points (1)

q-the-impaler (708563) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285783)

...The job it describes consists of archiving all the web content produced by the EOP (Executive Office of the President). Where does it say anything about facebook or myspace? ...

Wow, knee jerk repsonse. Shivetya was filling in examples for the following statement in the link in question:

The contractor shall include in the information posted by non-EOP persons on publicly-accessible web sites where the EOP maintains a presence both comments posted on pages created by EOP and messages sent to EOP accounts on those web sites. Publicly-accessible sites may include, but are not limited to social networking sites.

Re:They are merely tallying points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285963)

You're too apologetic for Shivetya. I didn't follow the link but I can understand what's being said from the lines you helpfully copy/pasted. It means that any comments posted to the Oval Office's Myspace page (should one exist) will be archived. It can't in any way be read to mean that the DHS will be spidering Facebook and downloading all your frat party photos for later perusal.

Re:They are merely tallying points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286371)

No it doesn't. It means that if the EOP creates an official profile on YouTube or Facebook they can archive the comments made to and from the EOP on that site. That leads to profiling. Post an opposing comment and guess who is getting an audit this year.

Re:A step in the right direction (0, Flamebait)

xs650 (741277) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284737)

The bat shit crazies will never be satisfied.

Re:A step in the right direction (3, Funny)

sakdoctor (1087155) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284809)

Seems to me like the site is a work in progress and will improve with time

Then where is the digging_man.gif? Where is are the road cones with flashing beacons, or the web 2.0 equivalent, the beta status?
No. This must be assumed to be a finished website and judged "as is"

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

Sum0 (1245284) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284853)

The US Government has its own web standards. That juvenile crap would never make it through the review process. Developers can't just post anything they damn well please on government web pages. There are very strict presentation standards. Wait and see...the site will either improve quickly or be yanked altogether. I Guarantee.

Re:A step in the right direction (1)

simoncpu was here (1601629) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285705)

Indeed. This stuff is serious.

Re:A step in the right direction (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286383)

I bet you're a ton of fun at parties.

Internet? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284613)

If you can't count the Internet as one of the most revolutionary things in the past 50 years, shit in flat out all of history, then I don't know what you can.

Re:Internet? (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285031)

"most revolutionary things - - all of history"

Somehow, I don't think the internet is nearly so revolutionary a thing as something like the Magna Charta, or the US constitution, or even the abolition of slavery. Given some time, I might prepare a full list of the "most revolutionary things" in history. The intartubez might make it onto that list - maybe between pages 5 and 10. Hell, public education ranks higher, as screwed up as that is!

morons (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284671)

Democrats are incompetent. What a shock.

Design Failure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284687)

So, a bug in the charting API and comments indicating that the data is flawed. I'm not a big city fancy web developer, but maybe someone should add to the discussion a definition of the terms "design" and "design failure"

Looks like a typical IT contractor job.. (2, Insightful)

ErichTheRed (39327) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284767)

If you're in IT long enough, you've probably seen a million sites and software packages like this in use at large companies. In my experience, this is usually the result of a low-bid IT contractor getting a last-minute request to slap something together. Of course, in-house resources can screw things up badly too, but high-dollar consulting/contracting deals seem to have a special knack for it. Some places have great results with outsourcing/contracting, but others make it impossible to get high-quality work done in a reasonable time.

It sucks that something as public as the federal spending-accountability website has obvious problems, but how much time do you think whoever won that contract got to get the site live?

I'd be interested in hearing from an MBA-type about what the actual rationale for hiring third party IT help is. I know it's usually driven by raw costs and the fact that "IT's not strategic." But what is it that's actually taught in business school that has every executive that drives the whole outsourcing push? Or is it really just "my golf buddy is doing it at his company."?

Disclaimer: In the government case, I can definitely see the need for contract help. Projects would probably have a really hard time surviving administration changes, internal squabbles, etc.

Re:Looks like a typical IT contractor job.. (1)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285077)

In my experience, this is usually the result of a low-bid IT contractor getting a last-minute request to slap something together.

$18 million for a website is "low-bid"??

Re:Looks like a typical IT contractor job.. (1)

RMH101 (636144) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285171)

rationale for 3rd party help? It makes the person who signs it off look good for a short term, which is long enough for them to stick another paragraph on the CV and go on to the next thing. We're using an indian outsourcing company to compress 7 years of work into 6 months. Never mind that this flat out doesn't work, at some level on a spreadsheet it's making a PHB look good. It'll be absolute crap when/if it ever delivers, but on paper it'll look good.

Re:Looks like a typical IT contractor job.. (1)

PainKilleR-CE (597083) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285297)

Of course, in-house resources can screw things up badly too, but high-dollar consulting/contracting deals seem to have a special knack for it. Some places have great results with outsourcing/contracting, but others make it impossible to get high-quality work done in a reasonable time.

I'd be interested in hearing from an MBA-type about what the actual rationale for hiring third party IT help is. I know it's usually driven by raw costs and the fact that "IT's not strategic." But what is it that's actually taught in business school that has every executive that drives the whole outsourcing push? Or is it really just "my golf buddy is doing it at his company."?

Disclaimer: In the government case, I can definitely see the need for contract help. Projects would probably have a really hard time surviving administration changes, internal squabbles, etc.

I'm not an MBA type, but I have a pretty good idea about these issues.
1) High-dollar consulting/contracting deals are usually made to handle things that have the in-house people scratching their heads, or that appear to be harder to do and are usually ill-defined in the first place. Usually it's the combination of a moving target and trying to do something that may actually be difficult that screws up these types of projects, but there's also the chance that the consultant or contractor was less competent than they let the client believe.

2) Generally the idea for outsourcing is that you go to a fairly reputable consultant firm that says they can get you the expertise you need to get the job done, without having to hire someone that you don't think you'll need after the job is finished. One of the big problems here, though, is that someone usually has to maintain these systems after the consultant is gone, and no one understands it if it was setup by an outside entity.

3) In the case of government work, these problems are just as bad when they contract the work out, because the government often expects to be able to change what they're asking for after the contract is signed. The terms are usually vague enough that they can get away with it, but if their feet are held to the fire and someone managed to get a contract that works in their favor when holding the government to it, the government ends up with something that doesn't do what they had originally wanted because no one bothered to do the analysis necessary to determine what needed to be done. Of course, if it were left up to the government workers themselves, there's a good chance nothing would ever change, which is part of the reason government contractors have such a hard time in the first place (since they're an outside entity bringing unwanted change, there will be little or no cooperation from the people that could help things go smoothly).

Can't write HTML.... (5, Informative)

aitala (111068) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284779)

The site's pages don't even have a proper BODY or HTML close tags..

Jeez.

Eric

Re:Can't write HTML.... (4, Informative)

themacks (1197889) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285355)

Not to mention the 253 errors from the W3C Validation site [w3.org] .

Re:Can't write HTML.... (1)

aitala (111068) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285955)

I didn't bother going that far since I was pretty sure the Validator would asplode..

E

A step in the absolute right direction (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284787)

You know this is a republican's doing. How can we make the democrats look bad now?

Since we don't care about what the president is called... Hussain Osama Hitler whatever... We don't care
Since we don't care about the healthcare reform...

We want results!
And we're getting some results, although they're not entirely correct.
It's better than what we didn't have!

Bugzilla? (2, Interesting)

should_be_linear (779431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284793)

How about adding Bugzilla to that site? Here is one feature request: I would like to see contract sums by company (yes, I am interested in overall amount going to Microsoft).

Re:Bugzilla? (4, Informative)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 4 years ago | (#29284875)

You mean something like this?

Microsoft Contracts [usaspending.gov]

I mean come on, the search by contractors was only one click from the main page ;)

Re:Bugzilla? (2, Interesting)

should_be_linear (779431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285037)

+1, thanks. Interesting fact: They are eating $2.5B/year, and 90% of that money is "Not competed for an allowable reason".

Re:Bugzilla? (1)

ProfessionalCookie (673314) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285859)

Compare to Apple, with only 2.2 Million in contracts, with less than 22k (>10%) listed as Not competed. I don't have a comment really except that competition is good.

Re:Bugzilla? (2, Informative)

kevinNCSU (1531307) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285255)

Actually, my mistake, this is the correct link:

Microsoft Corporation Contracts [usaspending.gov]

The initial search (linked in parent) for some reason included the "United States Government" in the search results for Microsoft as a parent company.

Re:Bugzilla? (1)

should_be_linear (779431) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285519)

$52M is laughable number, I think there is some flow here, or they are counting only subset of agencies (federal only?). No MS Lobbyists would waste their time in Washington DC for $52M worth of contracts. Another issue for Bugzilla. :-)

Re:Bugzilla? (1)

AndrewNeo (979708) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285117)

I'd be far less concerned about the tens of millions ($52m in 2009) going to Microsoft and more worried about the tens of billions ($26b in 2009) going to companies like Lockheed Martin [usaspending.gov] where $11b of it weren't even competed contracts.

Seriously... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284795)

Can someone remove the 3D pie chart from existance?

Re:Seriously... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285009)

Can someone remove the 3D pie chart from existance?

also remove it from existence while your at it

I'm a conservative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284903)

Uber conservative, I don't like Obama or Pelosi, but seriously this? This is not an issue. Complain about how the demorats want to set up panels to decide who lives and dies. That's what matters not some silly color scheme! Shesh.

Re:I'm a conservative (2, Insightful)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285041)

Certainly any real problem, no matter how minor, is more important than a non-existant problem you just made up, right?

Re:I'm a conservative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29285085)

We all know it's not possible for everybody to get treated for everything. There are not infinite resources. Some people will have their health care yanked so others will live. Surely you don't think that resources are infinite?

Re:I'm a conservative (2, Informative)

JSBiff (87824) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285207)

How's that *any* different than now? See, what I see is people crying and whining that we shouldn't have any form of government/universal health coverage (even a 'basic' health plan, which could then be supplemented by private insurance, or if you prefer, completely opt out of the public program and buy fully private healthcare), because you make the claim that resources are finite, so therefor, someone's gonna die because the government decides it's 'not worth paying for'.

How exactly, do private health insurance companies get around the lack of infinite resources? Your statement can easily be turned around and directed at the private insurance companies: "There are not infinite resources. Some people will have their health care yanked so others will live. Surely you don't think that resources are infinite?"

It appears that, in your world, the lack of infinite resources is an insurmountable problem for a public healthcare plan, but magically, private insurance companies have infinite resources? What about all the people who are getting sick and/or dieing simply because they have no healthcare, so the only option for them is to go to the emergency room when it's already too late, and too expensive? What about the people who get screwed by the penny-pinchers at the health insurance companies who deny their legitimate claims?

Surely, a problem which universally affects both private and public healthcare plans, cannot be used as an argument against *either* of them?

Re:I'm a conservative (1, Offtopic)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285129)

ASSuming that your claim about the "death panels" were correct - that would be worse than the present corporate death panels, HOW?

Face it, Bubba. When the insurance companies decide that you are no longer profitable, they can cut you off anytime. The only thing stopping them is PR.

Re:I'm a conservative (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285505)

Actually, there is this thing called a 'policy suit' and you should keep it in mind if any insurer tries to 'cut you off'.

They usually quake in their boots just at the mention of same.

Re:I'm a conservative (1)

Runaway1956 (1322357) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285683)

Google doesn't offer much on "policy suit". I added the term "insurance", and fared little better. Maybe I need a more obscure term?

Re:I'm a conservative (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285885)

A policy suit is basically just a lawsuit asserting breach of terms of an insurance policy. Consult a lawyer when the time comes, they will explain (and probably think you are an informed client at that point). Policies are minefields of legalese because of these, but just because an insurer can write a lot of boilerplate will not absolve them from a good faith interpretation of the policy's terms.

Re:I'm a conservative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286387)

put quotes around it.

Re:I'm a conservative (1)

DavidTC (10147) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286145)

There is not such thing as a 'policy suit', you loon.

You can, in theory, sue an insurance company if they fail to cover a procedure and you can demonstrate they should have covered it under their policy.

But a) that's going to be very hard and expensive to do, and b) won't stop them from ending your policy with them, it would just make them pay for expenses you incurred before they kicked you off their insurance rolls.

I.e., if you appear to have lung cancer, and they refuse to test you, and you go and pay for a test yourself and can demonstrate that, under your own policy with them, they should have paid for said test...you can sue them for the cost of the test, and maybe recover it, although they have a whole army of lawyers so it's an interesting trick to recover it for less than the cost of the test.

Actually, probably not. You need to sue them in advance to make them approve the test...the scenario I just laid out is rather unlikely.

But, regardless, you can't magically make them keep you as a customer, though, if you have cancer.

Re:I'm a conservative (1)

HBI (604924) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286473)

It's not hard OR expensive to file a policy suit, i've done it on at least two occasions and it happens every day.

Breaking news! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29284929)

Software has bugs! Software rushed out the door doubly so. In other news, the grass is green and water is wet.

Less heavy breathing, please (1)

davide marney (231845) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285059)

This story would have been a lot more appealing without the hyper-ventilated media fishbowl aspects (serious design flaws! total failure of web 2.0 principles! complete lack of transparency! they didn't respond to my wiki posts!).

As regards transparency, compared to what we had before, just having numbers like this up in the public puts government CIOs in a very hot seat, indeed. Just imagine if your own CIO had to do likewise with your own firm's numbers! Yow.

Let's help them out here, not bash them in for small coding errors.

Oh wait. What am I thinking? This is /. Nevermind.

Another cynical comment! (1)

that IT girl (864406) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285289)

"blah blah blah... failure... blah blah blah... dot gov"
In other breaking news, the sky is blue.

Header to column with "...poor numbers." (1)

ogfomk (677034) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285313)

It could be argued that the statement meant: "Comment here if you agree with this statement. OR If this is true check here." If someone is putting out honest numbers, there has to be a way the he or she can have feed back.

Serious Troll Failure at that article (2, Insightful)

spectro (80839) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285373)

That guys trolls about "major design flaws" on a website that was slapped together within a month of President Obama taking office... gimme a break.

The fact that a government operation was able to put that information out that quickly is just impressive and unprecedented.

I wonder if TFA author would be able to put together a website of such scope and functionality in such short amount of time... and without any bugs when he claims to have "spent way too much time" troubleshooting just the pie chart.

Maybe he works for the shop that came second on the bid?

Pie Chart = Transparency? (1)

MaryBethP (1079677) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285391)

Might I add, there's little "transparent" about a pie chart. How about a spreadsheet listing exact vendors and amounts?

Data (1)

MikeURL (890801) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285413)

Without an inside view of their process it is difficult to know if this is symptomatic of a serious problem or not. When you put together a large repository of data it is easy, very easy, to get totally focused on building the backend. The frontend becomes almost an afterthought (Oh yeah, throw up some charts). I would see that as not a very big deal because frontend work can be fixed pretty easily. However, if this is rooted in carelessness in building the backend as well then the whole project is useless.

It is troubling that they don't already know an old lesson that has already been learned over and over. If you throw up charts as an afterthought you have to understand that even though those charts can seem like the LEAST of the project from the inside they are the MOST of the project from the outside. So yeah, I worry about the whole project when I see something like this.

With a grain of salt (3, Interesting)

Twillerror (536681) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285435)

The govt. always gets highly critizied. Or even when someone is just making a simple obersvation it all of the sudden becomes a "slam".

Can you imagine if companies had to bear this sort of total public critisim. How many companies have stupid errors on there website, menus, marketing, or anything else and we don't get upset.

I just take it with a grain of salt and hope things get better. The govt. isn't going to be perfect becuase it's ran by human beings...just like everything else.

newness is not an excuse in this case (5, Informative)

sbma44 (694130) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285525)

I work at the Sunlight Foundation [sunlightfoundation.com] , where we're pretty familiar with the people and data systems powering USASpending.gov. I've seen a lot of comments here saying that the important thing is that the government is publishing something, and that it's understandable that their first pass might not be perfect.

But this isn't their first pass. The underlying data systems -- FAADS and FPDS -- have existed since the 90s, and have been riddled with errors throughout their existence. Instead of fixing the problems, OMB continues to slap new coats of paint on the same lousy data.

It's nice that we've got a new USASpending.gov, and I agree that it would be a mistake to put too much emphasis on a buggy visualization. But the underlying data is terrible, and so far no one is showing the will to fix it. Just look at USASpending's "data quality" tab -- it talks about the completeness of each row. Well, that's great, but it tells you nothing about the thousands upon thousands of missing rows, nor about the rows that massively under- or over-report their dollar amounts.

At Subsidyscope [subsidyscope.com] , the project on which I work, we've delved into these problems in more depth. Those who'd like to learn more about the shortcomings of the data systems powering USASpending can find a discussion of the relevant issues here [subsidyscope.com] .

Mistake? (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 4 years ago | (#29285711)

"they forgot to remove a (commented) reference to a Google spreadsheet"

Sounds like transparency to me. Another promise kept. Working as designed.

You CANNOT make this stuff up.

Inaccurate numbers are okay (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 4 years ago | (#29286191)

.. so long as you say that "due to the difficulty of measuring total spending in a single year, these numbers are reasonably approximate".

I suspect they didn't.

Missing the biggest outflows (2, Insightful)

JDS13 (1236704) | more than 4 years ago | (#29286461)

The whole exercise is a political manipulation anyway. The largest government outlays - the so-called entitlements - are omitted from the chart. Medicare, Social Security, and reimbursements to states for social services are not shown on these charts. Those items constitute more than half of Federal spending - that's where your tax dollars go - but they're completely omitted in this analysis.

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