I intended to write about how innovative and exciting USASpending.gov is, because it opens up extensive government budget databases: you can search, browse, and even write programs to query the system.
But, that changed when I read this on the home page:
WARNING: This is a United States Federal Government computer system that is "FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY." This system is subject to monitoring. Therefore, no expectation of privacy is to be assumed. Individuals found performing unauthorized activities are subject to disciplinary action including criminal prosecution. Click here for more information.
I guess Uncle Sam doesn't really want to open up his budget for public review.
Let's break down this warning:
"For Official Use Only" — This means the information is sensitive, but unclassified. If this is true, then USASpending.gov contains information that should not be released to the public. It is unbelievable that the government would put information that is actually For Official Use Only on the Internet!
Unauthorized activities — What exactly would be unauthorized? If the information on the site really is "For official use only", then it is unauthorized for a private citizen to even access the information.
This is the scariest warning I have ever seen on public government information.
Luckily you don't need to use USASpending.gov; there are alternatives:
FedSpending.org has the same information, interface, and API. USASpending.gov was meant to duplicate FedSpending.org anyway. But let's hope that the Sunlight Foundation continues to support FedSpending.org.
USASpending.gov might be a good resource, but the intimidating and incorrect warning on the home page needs to be removed before it can be a tool for government transparency. In the meantime, use FedSpending.org.
I was forwarded your post and agreed that the warning on USASpending.gov was intimidating. I also thought it innacurately described our policy. It has been revised: http://usaspending.gov/USASpending%20Privacy%20Policy.pdf. Thanks for bringing to my attention.