Every morning, on the way to work, many Americans pass by a current or future stimulus project. Some $27 billion of taxpayer money will be spent on fixing roads, replacing bridges, and building signs and light posts. With that much money on the table, corruption, waste, and abuses of power are nearly inevitable.
The website ProPublica is amassing a network of citizen watchdogs to keep an eye on the individual projects and the stimulus as a whole. In the beginning, volunteers will be asked simple questions: When did construction start? What companies are showing up? The idea is to tap into local knowledge that ProPublica’s professional investigative reporters in New York City might not have.
“Ultimately what we’re trying to do is tell a story that would be more difficult with traditional methods,” ProPublica’s Amanda Michel told me on the phone. Michel gained experience directing Off the Bus, a groundbreaking citizen-driven campaign news project for the Huffington Post. With the new “Adopt-a-Stimulus Project” and ProPublica’s budding reporting network, Michel hopes to “build a network of people on the ground to tell us what’s really going on in their communities.”
Knowing that an army of citizen watchdogs are looking over their shoulders might keep the stimulus recipients a little more honest.