Last summer, the Department of the Navy contracted with a California-based outfit called Security 20/20 to buy $9,232 worth of bicycles for use in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Security 20/20, also known as Security Pro USA, advertises Fuji Police Patrol bicycles at its Online Security Super Center, for $549.99 a piece. Security 20/20 can also assist customers of all kinds in getting their hands on bomb detection equipment, body armor, stun guns, riot and crowd control products and much, much more. It's your one-stop online shopping center for homeland security products!
I know all this might sound as if I grabbed it from an episode of the television crime show "NCIS," but it's really just an example of the kind of thing one can learn from a few minutes of digging around at USAspending.gov.
In Fiscal Year 2008, various agencies of the U.S. government steered nearly $400,000 dollars to Security 20/20. That does not, however, bring Security 20/20 anywhere close to the top of the list of military contractors who suckle at the breast of the U.S. government. The front page of USASpending.gov, tells us that Lockheed Martin is number one -- with over $20 billion in Fiscal Year 2009 alone! Boeing, Northrup Grumman, General Dynamics, and Raytheon stack up at 2-5.
USASpending.gov (found via Barry Ritholtz's The Big Picture) is an incredibly powerful interface to a database of federal spending. Although it debuted on July 1, it's not exactly brand new -- it's actually a government organized relaunch of a previously existing Web site, fedspending.org, that was set up by the non-profit OMB Watch a couple of years ago. But it's slick, and it's fast, and it is supposed to gradually incorporate more and more data from government agencies.
I found out about the police bicycles sent to Bosnia Herzegovina just by plugging in the word "bicycles" into USASpending.gov and then snooping around. As a result, now I know where I need to go should I ever desire some Kevlar body armor. More importantly, I also know the first place I'm going to go when trying to get hard numbers on who is getting what from the Feds.
All this gives us yet another opportunity to reflect on the strange quandary afflicting modern journalism. The rise of the Internet is obliterating journalism business models. No one has a good answer for the question of how we are going to fund investigative journalism in the future. But our tools for investigative journalism are extraordinarily more powerful than anything we had access to five, ten, or twenty years ago.
Is that a fair trade-off? I guess we'll see.