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$18M Contract For Transparency Website Released — But Blacked Out 384

zokuga writes "The US government recently approved an $18 million contract for Smartronix to build a website where taxpayers could easily track billions in federal stimulus money, as part of President Obama's promise to make government more transparent through the Internet. However, the contract, which was released only through repeated Freedom of Information Act requests, is itself heavily blacked out. ProPublica reports: 'After weeks of prodding by ProPublica and other organizations, the Government Services Agency released copies of the contract and related documents that are so heavily blacked out they are virtually worthless. In all, 25 pages of a 59-page technical proposal — the main document in the package — were redacted completely. Of the remaining pages, 14 had half or more of their content blacked out.' Sections that were heavily or entirely redacted dealt with subjects such as site navigation, user experience, and everything in the pricing table. The entire contract, in all its blacked-out glory, is here."
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$18M Contract For Transparency Website Released — But Blacked Out

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  • Surprised? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by The_AV8R ( 1257270 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:00PM (#29056633) Homepage
    Ahh, the hypocrisy of our democracy.
    • Re:Surprised? (Score:5, Informative)

      by mcgrew ( 92797 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:12PM (#29056797) Homepage Journal

      Ahh, the hypocrisy of our democracy.

      Actually it's a republic rather tha a democracy, but the action is hypocritical anyway.

      If voters had to vote on all bills passed by the legislators and signed by the President before they became law, then it would indeed be a democracy. As it is, considering the power of money and the weakness of a single person's vote, it's closer to a plutocracy than a democracy.

      • by gnick ( 1211984 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:19PM (#29056915) Homepage

        ********, * ***** you're ********. The ********** between a ********* and a ******** is **** **** ********** than that.
        [Some content redacted due to FOIA exemptions]

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by Shakrai ( 717556 )

          You should know that I take it personally when people talk about my mother like that ;)

      • Re:Surprised? (Score:4, Informative)

        by Hellhog ( 1617707 ) <hardwiredgaming@@@gmail...com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:44PM (#29057331) Homepage

        Ahh, the hypocrisy of our democracy.

        Actually it's a republic rather tha a democracy

        MYTH. Representative democracy != Republic.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 )

          Thanks for that thorough debunking.

          "... and to the representative democracy, for which it stands ..."

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          Hate to burst your bubble, but saith Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]:

          The United States of America (commonly referred to as the United States, the U.S., the USA, or America) is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district.

          (Emphasis mine.)

          • Re:Surprised? (Score:5, Informative)

            by VGPowerlord ( 621254 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @05:14PM (#29057829)

            And to quote a more credible source, saith the CIA World Factbook [cia.gov]:

            Government type:
            Constitution-based federal republic; strong democratic tradition

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by zaanan ( 1617787 )
            Also the Constitution, which states in Article IV, Section 4: "The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government." On a related note, you would think that Amendment XVII would have given greater control of the Senate to we the people when it changed this: "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each State, chosen by the Legislature thereof for six Years; and each Senator shall have one Vote." (Article I, section 3) to this: "The S
    • Ahh, the hypocrisy of our democracy.

      Ahh, the irony that people call it a democracy.

  • tagged: !change (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Shakrai ( 717556 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:00PM (#29056635) Journal

    To add insult to injury, I wonder if it was a no bid contract?

    • Re:tagged: !change (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:03PM (#29056695)

      $18 million dollars is change...

      It's pocket change in the face of billion dollar bailouts.

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by Shakrai ( 717556 )

        It's pocket change in the face of billion dollar bailouts.

        I wish I could mod you "+1, even more cynical than I am".

      • Re:tagged: !change (Score:5, Insightful)

        by ivan256 ( 17499 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:28PM (#29057063)

        I'm not sure how this is "insightful". Because we're spending a ridiculously huge amount of money, we can waste a ridiculously huge (but relatively small) amount of money?

        Startup companies that develop web applications run for 4+ years on $18mil with 30+ developers and a sales and management team. And they turn out products orders of magnitude more complex than this tracking website. I wish I knew about the bid. I could have undercut these guys by about $14 mil, pulled a team together in about a week, gotten the job done quick and retired in style.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by FiloEleven ( 602040 )

          I think the comment is "insightful" because it reveals the way things are, not because it is a prescription for the way things ought to be.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by SlashDev ( 627697 )
          How could you possibly put a price ($4 million) before doing a systems analysis? Do you know what hardware is required? Communication links? Location? Security? Data Security? Software? What about employees? Security clearances? Background checks? I could go on many pages on the subject and easily rack up an $18 million bill. If I had a project and someone came up to me and offered an 80% price cut right off the bat, I would brush them aside. And to think you got a Score of 5!
        • Seriously, I can't even imagine what the line item pricing table must look like. I've spent 2500-3000 hours developing a really complex web application over the past year and a half, and we've spent about $200k on development. An $18mil database lookup application would be a pretty sweet deal for any developer. The only thing that sucks about it is that it's taxpayer money.

      • If one thing is bad, and the other thing is worse, this does not make the first thing better at all. No, it even fortifies the feeling that that which is common to both of them in bad.

      • Re:tagged: !change (Score:5, Interesting)

        by D'Sphitz ( 699604 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:33PM (#29057147) Journal
        It may be, but seriously, what kind of website costs $18 million? I've been designing and programming websites for 10 years full time, hundreds and hundreds of them, put them all together and they're not worth $1million much less $18 million. I'll be interested to see the final product, because I can't fathom what an $18m website looks like.
        • An online banking site. Possibly also betting sites. Mostly because they deal with money and any security breach is fatal. That's the only examples I can think of excluding megasites like google, facebook and amazon.
          • Re:tagged: !change (Score:5, Insightful)

            by CorporateSuit ( 1319461 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:53PM (#29057475)

            An online banking site. Possibly also betting sites. Mostly because they deal with money and any security breach is fatal. That's the only examples I can think of excluding megasites like google, facebook and amazon.

            Those sites could be built for a few hundred thousand + server costs. $18M to make a site that lists sales receipts is a huge middle-finger to taxpayers.

            • Re:tagged: !change (Score:4, Insightful)

              by JCSoRocks ( 1142053 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @05:08PM (#29057729)
              Not to mention the fact that all of those sites see far more traffic than this site ever will. Honestly, even if a generous 1% of America takes the time to go to that site over the course of an entire month you're still only looking at around 300,000 visitors. That's nothing. Previous comments regarding the cost of security and such are off base. This is a site meant for presenting information that should already be public to the public. We aren't doing financial transactions here or hiding nuclear codes.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            by amicusNYCL ( 1538833 )

            You can build an entire online banking or betting application, go through a year of security audits and certifications, and still come in at under $1mil easily. The price doesn't all of a sudden go up just because there's money involved in the application. Any online application should be secure, that doesn't change just because it's for a bank or bookmaker.

            But the site in question isn't even dealing with people's money - it's just a lookup site to see where the money is going.

        • by shadowrat ( 1069614 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @05:25PM (#29058023)
          You'll never land a government contract with that attitude mister. If you can't build a website for over $16 million, you probably don't even know what you are doing.
      • by Splab ( 574204 )

        Spare some change mister?

      • Re:tagged: !change (Score:5, Insightful)

        by RenderSeven ( 938535 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @07:45PM (#29059897)
        Well, yeah, but you have to admit the irony of it; an $18m website to convince people a $1t expenditure was not wasted, and an apparent cover-up to see if the $18m was wasted. Rarely is cynicism and humor this conjoined, and yet so recursive.
  • by Itninja ( 937614 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:02PM (#29056659) Homepage
    Listen, I worked on the project. This is no big deal. Basically, it's [12 LINES REDACTED]. So I don't know what all the fuss is about.
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) *
      I'll tell you what all the fuss is about, it's about the secret
      #AT%$#NO CARRIER
  • by OeLeWaPpErKe ( 412765 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:02PM (#29056671) Homepage

    Change we can believe in ! Belief being necessary because, you know, you don't get to check.

    Say what were those economic numbers again ?

  • Democracy (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I love this f*cking country, and this country loves f*cking me.

  • Slashdotted (Score:5, Funny)

    by ionymous ( 1216224 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:07PM (#29056751)
    Now that it's slashdotted, it's completely blacked out!
  • by Shivetya ( 243324 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:08PM (#29056759) Homepage Journal

    I would hate to see a secretive US Government then...

    Ramming bills through Congress, no five day period, hell five days seems to apply how long a before a thousand page bill is dropped on us before its rammed through.

    One party rule never works and just as before when they were in power they do all the same rotten things they claim the other side did when they had power.

    Apparently they are so wrapped up in knowing whats best for us, because they are so obviously smarter and well... transparency is where they deem we need to have it.

    Now we have a nearly sinister cooperation of the press and government all walking the same line. Calling them out on it is now unAmerican. We get town halls that first tell us everyone is entitled to their opinion followed by statements that those who dare have a differing one need to get out of the way.

    Website, schebsite, its all just more bs for the point column where the score never matters as long as they win.

    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Kral_Blbec ( 1201285 )
      Well said.
      I am also interested in how people are supposed to verify information from the supposed transparency. If the government is the one setting it up, it is childs play to manipulate the system to show what they want. I suppose that is what the redacted sections touched on.
    • >>Calling them out on it is now unAmerican.
      >>We get town halls that first tell us everyone is entitled to their opinion followed
      >>by statements that those who dare have a differing one need to get out of the way.

      It's not so much that shouting the pledge of allegiance in an overly jingoistic way in a juvenile attempt to disrupt things is unAmerican; it's more a matter of being annoying and counter-productive. It wasn't entertaining when the Dems acted like babies for the last 8 years, and it isn't entertaining now to see Conservatives acting the exact same way. If you want to express a dissenting opinion, then do it in a civil manner, but please, take the dress off before you do.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jdgeorge ( 18767 )

      I was going to moderate this, but I couldn't divine a coherent thread that justified any available moderation. Specifically, I wonder:

      Is this a criticism of the Democratic or Republican Party politicians, as if they are responsible for the redaction of this document (which doesn't seem likely)?

      Or is it meant to say that politicians are consistently in the pockets of corporations?

      Or is it a criticism of the press, and the inability of people to say what they think without being labeled unAmerican, (as if thi

    • by IMightB ( 533307 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:40PM (#29057279) Journal

      So far the ones that are being called unMerkin are the ones that seem to be incapable of speaking in any manner other than yelling and screaming about "Death Panels". Rather than contributing to the discussion they are denying everyone else the chance to contribute to the discussion.

    • by nine-times ( 778537 ) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:54PM (#29057499) Homepage

      I would hate to see a secretive US Government then...

      Not to take sides, but how about one that "loses" millions of emails [cnn.com]? That's when stuff gets really scary-- when they stop redacting records before releasing them and start destroying them outright.

      But no, sure, this isn't exactly transparent.

      Now we have a nearly sinister cooperation of the press and government all walking the same line. Calling them out on it is now unAmerican. We get town halls that first tell us everyone is entitled to their opinion followed by statements that those who dare have a differing one need to get out of the way.

      Now you won't believe me, but lots of people think I'm too conservative, and I consider myself conservative to a large degree, so this isn't about that. But still, I don't agree with what you're saying.

      As far as the evil press, it does seem to me that most people who talk about the press being evil are still blindly listening to someone who is part of "the media". People complaining about NYT and MSNBC are watching Fox News and listening to Rush Limbaugh, and vice-versa. The reason you think "the other side" is trying to use the media to mislead you is largely because "your side" tells you they are, so no one is completely clean in that regard. Yes, both sides are manipulating their coverage because the people running the show have an agenda that they're pushing. If you don't see how they're manipulating your and you don't know what agenda they're pushing, then you should pay more attention.

      But as far as these people at the town hall meeting being "un-American", well... they're certainly being disruptive. What they're engaging in isn't constructive criticism or deliberate conversation. What they're doing is not debating. Hard to say whether that's "unAmerican" since our founding fathers were the intellectual elite who founded our government on philosophic theories, but they're also the lawless hooligans who dumped someone else's tea into the harbor.

      However, it does seem to me that many of them are misinformed. There are plenty of valid things to be concerned about with this health care reform, but death panels aren't really one of those things. No one is suggesting death panels. Being misinformed and refusing to listen to anyone who might inform you better can be problematic behavior.

    • Dissent isn't un-American. What Pelosi said was that drowning out the other side so that there cannot be any debate is un-American. I agree. The town hall protesters are not interested in a debate. They are showing up, and walking up within a few feet of the speaker to yell at them in a physically-threatening manner.

      Mr. Gingrinch opines that Obama's health care plan has spectres of Nazism. Protesters promptly paint swastikas onto the door of politicians who support the plan [11alive.com] and waive signs calling Obama a Nazi. A black politician received death threats, and references to himself and Obama as "niggers". They are standing outside of town hall meetings with guns strapped to their legs with a sign saying it's time to water the tree of liberty. [dailymail.co.uk]

      The protesters don't even have anything intelligent to say other than, "YOU'RE LYING TO ME!" and "YOU'RE A BUNCH OF SOCIALISTS." That's not debate. That's a hateful mob trying to rule by intimidation. Look up videos of these confrontations. It's freaking terrifying. Tell me that's American.

      For more fun, look up how Republicans and conservatives freely called Democrats un-American or anti-American. For fuck's sake, a few months ago, Republican Senator Inhofe called Obama "un-American" for opposing the war in Iraq. [newsok.com] A speech is un-American but showing up threatening physical force and painting swastikas is not?

  • by istartedi ( 132515 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:11PM (#29056795) Journal

    Maybe, just maybe, it's one of those PDF dealies where it's not really blacked out because they're just rendering rectangles over text that's still in the document. Yeah, it's a longshot but check on it anyway.

    Also, WTF could possibly be so sensitive about a contract for a WEB SITE??? You'd think they have some kind of sense for how much traffic the most popular government sites are getting, and be able to order some colo and stuff based on that. That's what I'd expect to find in there... servers, bandwidth, hourly support rates to handle wierd stuff like DDoS attacks. WTF could possibly be in there that needs to be blacked out for any reason???

    • I don't know if that is part of the sig, but it's "intents and purposes" not "intensive purposes". Unless you really mean it is only dead when used IN AN INTENSIVE SENTENCE!!!
      • by gnick ( 1211984 )

        That begs the question, "Whom can spot the sig playfully fishing for grammar Nazis?"

        For all intensive porpoises, its not iamhigh.

  • by ATestR ( 1060586 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:12PM (#29056801) Homepage
    If this is the way that things work in the Government, maybe we should all try it on our 1040's next April.
  • "Never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity." Or in this case, incompetency. I have trouble believing that there was much thought process going on here. They just did what they always do. There is a heavy governmental culture of giving out as little information to the public as possible. That's just what they do. They likely aren't even thinking about it enough to appreciate the irony.
  • by z-j-y ( 1056250 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:16PM (#29056857)

    black out? you guys have new code word everyday. just can't accept an African president can you.

    • Really bad joke. Acknowledging a persons skin color is not the same as racism.
    • Actually they should've used white-out on the rest of the contract since he's half white.

  • Irony (Score:2, Insightful)

    Anyone else find it iron on page 93 they talk about their benifits to their open design with over half the page blacked out (page 93 for those interested)
  • deliverables? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Unknown Relic ( 544714 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:26PM (#29057027) Homepage
    Is it just me or is something about the deliverables on page 97 a little off? "Advanced search" due Aug 10, but the system architecture due after 6 months? Data migration due in 2007?

    http://documents.propublica.org/recovery-gov-contract-documents#p=97 [propublica.org]
  • nothing to see here (Score:5, Informative)

    by mugnyte ( 203225 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:28PM (#29057065) Journal

      The first few redacted pages are the names and histories of the people involved. This is privacy, and nothing new.

      The other pages are management chains used on the project and are part of KPMG's/Smartronix value-added business techniques, and it's their option to not reveal those practices.

      I'm not too concerned. Wait until the site opens up.

  • by aitala ( 111068 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:45PM (#29057361) Homepage

    Now I know why its $18 million - they are using Sharepoint.... from Open Source software to the Evil Empire..


  • by rpillala ( 583965 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:51PM (#29057447)

    The only way for this to get more attention is for the opposition party to take it up as a cause. That's the reality of our 2 party system. Not just this website but lack of transparency across the board. We've seen a number of examples in the last 7 months. So, instead of birth records or death panels, take something that's actually demonstrably outrageous. I'm about as far left as it gets, which makes me want someone to call out this bullshit even more. This is one check on the power of a political party but I doubt we'll see this story get any play on right wing radio or fox news.

    Hold on, I'm being told that we want more Orly Taitz and town hall attendees with vague fears who want their America back.


  • by jameskojiro ( 705701 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @04:59PM (#29057597) Journal

    What amuses me is how many sheeple in this country still Trust the government to do what is best for them and to keep them safe.
    FACT: The Government can only always be trusted to take your money and rights away from you.
    Any government form is flawed as it is composed as many flawed individuals who are not good people. From the DMV clerk with an attitude, the City council member who taking kickbacks from the country clubbers, to the senator who is taking money from PACs, all of the way to the president who is taking money from companies like G.E.
    When will people learn that you need government but you need to be vigilant and limit their powers at every turn. We need to also teach people the common ideal that when you let or expect people to take care of a certain aspect of your life you lose some of your freedom. For every sugar coated promise a politician makes there is a equal price to pay in lost control, money or freedom over our own lives.
    The Instant Gratification ME, ME, ME culture of today's society feeds directly to the politician's sweet saccharine promises of how the government is going to take care of them. There used to be a time when people used to have enough pride in themselves that if you gave someone a free meal they would see to it that they would return the favor because they felt if they didn't they would be viewed a selfish loser. We used to bear the burden of our families and help take care of our grandmas and grandpas, aunts and uncles, cousins and children. These days those responsibilities are dropped upon the government who ends up doing a sub standard job of doing so. The politicians don't mind this, in fact they love this dependency on their special programs, they gain power in political capital which ensures that they get re-elected each term. These guaranteed votes allow them to be as corrupt as they want as they no longer fear reprisal. They no longer fear reprisal because they they have large voting block dependent on them.
    Put it this way, when you were a kid and were totally dependent on your parents and your parents grounded you, did you have the power to stand up against them in any meaningful way? No you didn't.
    Same with the government, the more of your life they control and make you dependent on them, the more they can get away with.
    The Government has so much of this control that they are no longer accountable to their own actions. It doesn't surprise me that they would black out information and manipulate documents even when it comes to a promise of transparency. They are all a bunch of corrupt schmucks because we let them be that way. Maybe if we are to be a ME ME ME generation who acts like children, then we really deserve Big Brother or Father watching over until we grow and wake up. What is the German word for Father again????
    We all have inherent human rights, the government's role is not to GRANT you rights, the role of government is to RESTRICT your actions when they infringe upon other people's rights. But people these days think that the government is their parents handing out things like rights, privileges and safety.
    Maybe we deserve exactly what we got.

  • Mad Libs contract (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pak9rabid ( 1011935 ) on Thursday August 13, 2009 @05:13PM (#29057823)
    This contract reminds me of a Mad Libs.

"If it's not loud, it doesn't work!" -- Blank Reg, from "Max Headroom"