You probably know about the big initiative in Washington to put more government data online, more quickly and more accessibly, in order to promote government transparency. A much-touted early pilot for this new initiative is, designed to provide total transparency on the spending of $787 billion in federal stimulus money.

I'll admit right away that the website is head-and-shoulders above the other federal agency websites I have used, both in terms of interface, navigation and ease-of-use. The problem with, however, is that according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, it is woefully behind in reporting contract awards.

If you find it frustrating that you can't get access to these contract awards, don't be. You simply need to go to a different site, This site offers vastly more contract awards data under the stimulus program, but it's not a government website. In fact, it's operated by 2008 InfoCommerce Model of Excellence award winner Onvia.

Onvia, which reports contract awards at the federal, state and local levels, has spent years developing data feeds from government agencies, supplemented by its own compilation efforts. It's also developed sophisticated software to normalize and process all these disparate data feeds. Result: Onvia can post contract award data faster than the U.S. Government, which is writing all the checks.Onvia isn't entirely selfless in its launch of Recovery, org, which is free to use. The site also shows users how much additional contract information Onvia can make available on a paid subscription basis. In short, is a clever and powerful sales promotion tool.

Is the government committed to improving its site? You bet. In fact, it's just let an $18 million contract to that end. Did this contract end up in the hands of Onvia, which not only has demonstrated its skills, but controls high-value data feeds to speed receipt of contract data? What do you think? According to, the contract went to a company called Smartronix, which is going to build all this functionality from scratch. A quick peek at the company's own website tells me it fairly earns the moniker "Beltway bandit," with its long list of government clients, and no evidence it has ever built a B2B website before, much less one designed primarily for consumer use.

Sometimes transparency just confirms what you could have just guessed.