Show Us the Money

Stimulus Tracker gives New Yorkers a clear view of Recovery Act spending.

by Carol Hildebrand, February 2010

Transparency, accessibility, and accountability have been core values of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration since he took office in 2001. So when U.S. President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA)—otherwise known as the stimulus bill—with a promise to implement it with an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, the mayor’s office heard the message loud and clear.

“We wanted to set the gold standard,” says Carole Post, director of agency services, at the Mayor’s Office of Operations for New York City. “The expectation was that the city would get a significant amount of funds, and this is the mayor of accountability, transparency, and accessibility.”

Building on existing Oracle infrastructure, Post and her team created the NYCStat Stimulus Tracker, an Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition-based solution that allows agencies and citizens to see how funding is distributed, track key performance measurements (such as jobs created), and examine pertinent funding details.

The NYCStat Stimulus Tracker has placed New York City at the forefront of public sector IT. The system not only complies with federal requirements but also is a model of transparency for government organizations. Indeed, government advocacy group Good Jobs First singled out New York City’s application, making it the only city-built system to receive such recognition.

But transparency can deliver much more than regulatory reporting and compliance—it can change citizens’ expectations about the information they get from their government. “Clearly, the leadership of New York City sees this as an important way to build trust and confidence with their stakeholders,” says Rich Clayton, vice president of business intelligence and enterprise performance management at Oracle. “There is simply no greater testament to the city’s values than citizen access to the same information to make decisions as their government leaders use.”

New York City is not the only place where transparency is a critical success factor. According to Bob Tapscott, cofounder of the WRAP 2.0, a global community dedicated to modeling collaborative financial risk transparency, the need for better financial visibility is key to restoring stability for financial markets worldwide. In fact, he says that financial opacity was a major cause of the market meltdown of 2008. “Most of the toxic assets were off the balance sheet and over the counter,” says Tapscott. “In effect, they were hidden from view and growing into the trillions before the public ever knew there was a problem.”

As coauthor (with brother Don Tapscott) of a research paper entitled Risk Management 2.0: Overcoming the Current Financial Crisis and Restoring Stability and Prosperity with a New Perspective on Risk, Tapscott argues that since the recent financial crisis has cost taxpayers trillions, the public has the right to see where its money is going and what the recipients of the tax dollars are doing with the cash.

“The public has a right to know that there is a growing imbalance, long before it becomes a catastrophe,” he says.

Tapscott believes that projects such as the NYCStat Stimulus Tracker are an excellent move toward transparency—in both the public and private sectors. “Good for New York City,” he says. “Though the federal process behind the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was not as open and transparent as some would have liked, New York City is at the forefront in telling its constituents what they are doing with these funds.”

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