Transparency for Trust: Mapping the Government and Our Money

By Jeffrey Stamps and Jessica Lipnack

PART 1: October 6 and November 4, 2008

What do Barack Obama and Neel Kashkari have in common? One well known, the other not so much, but both are young men shaping this moment of transforming change. Both need organizational transparency to be successful, a way to see the new government taking shape and its now-burgeoning role in the economy.

On Monday, October 6, the US government, under threat of imminent global financial meltdown, gave birth to a new agency and handed it a budget equal to twice the expense to date of the Iraq War.

Unprecedented in US—and perhaps world—history, the Office of Financial Stability has few, if any, successful organizational models to follow. And, the 451-page bill authorizing its creation offers zero guidance in regard to its structure.

Common sense suggests that the OFS, as it already is known, is likely to yield an unwieldy bureaucratic edifice, a clumsy construct of the same Industrial-Era thinking that produced the debacle in the first place.

Neel Kashkari, the former Goldman Sachs executive appointed to head the new agency set out in the “Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008,” would be well advised to bring transparency not only to his financial decisions but to his organizational ones as well.

On Tuesday, November 4, the American people selected Barack Obama as their next President. President-Elect Obama is already a fan of transparency and made it a staple of his campaign narrative. His early and deep interest is indicated by his co-authorship of the “Google for Government” law.

Known to some, but completely unknown to most, the bipartisan Coburn-Obama Bill directed the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a searchable database of almost $3 trillion (in 2007 dollars) in federal grants. Officially the “Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006,” it was the first law Barack Obama introduced when he came to the Senate. The legislation called for tracking contracts, earmarks, direct payments, and loans by January 1, 2008. OMB made its deadline (see for the result of this useful piece of 21st-century legislation).

Why is transparency so important? In a word, trust. “Trust, but verify,” said Ronald Reagan. Only trust with openness and verification will allow widespread confidence to develop, which is the key to market recovery. The word “credit,” after all, comes from the Latin credere, “to believe in or trust.”

Trust is also the basic coin of the political realm. Trust in and of the People grows social capital within the body politic. Today, however, trust will only come through transparency. It is key to rebuilding confidence in government, especially as it dramatically changes to meet the accelerating challenges of our time.

Given the urgency of cleaning up so many messes and restoring a modicum of faith in government, the new administration should make mapping newly-vacant positions from the top down an initial priority. A relatively small network of a few thousand political appointees soon will move into these key positions, hubs in the vast bureaucratic networks they will lead. Real organizational transparency can begin here.

But this is past and future government organization and visualization. Right now, new structures and cross-cutting relationships of the economic rescue efforts are being formed and vast sums committed.

On Monday, October 13, with markets surging to record levels, Kashkari announced the outline of the new structure, and several key appointments. However, much of OFS’s work is about to be outsourced. On the very day that OFS came to life, the Treasury Department announced it would hire a single company to act as the “financial agent” to set up the whole system.

We are poised to fail before we start. With minimal oversight and jargon-ridden reports guaranteed to lag, mistakes and problems with the warp-speed implementation of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) will accumulate, likely causing more harm than good. For starters, the Financial Stability Oversight Board is five levels away from the OFS organization in Treasury.

Trust will develop with real transparency that gives everyone a shared picture of what’s going on as the program progresses, not after the fact. Who runs it? Who works for whom? Who has control of which aspect of the project? From the outset, we can chart the $700 billion territory as it emerges.

PART 2: "Seeing is Believing"

We can map the inherently public organizational structure of the OFS federal-contractor partnership that makes the deals and doles out the funds. Imagine this organizational topography visualized and navigated as you can with Google Earth (for example, see our dynamic map of the US Government in transition with an illustrative OFS overlay).

Using common tools for displaying networks, it’s relatively easy to map the $700 billion network as it grows. Each new job will report (i.e., link) to another position that eventually reports to a lead-contractor post that reports to an official assignment that reports to Mr. Kashkari. People come with the jobs. Their concrete work will result in contracts with specific clients, deals with precise dollar values.

We can link the agreements to the actual organizational units, teams, and positions that transacted them. Now we have a single network representing the whole OFS organization, its clients, and its deals, all appropriately sized by their slices of our at-risk taxpayer money. We then can roll these slices up through the executive ranks to Mr. Kashkari’s level, where we can see the running total of taxpayer commitment.

Of course, we can apply this idea of mapping how the government spends our economic rescue money more widely—for example, to all the other instant organizations managing billions (they seem to be a-borning daily). Why not tie all the taxpayer-funded pieces of the whole thing together? Where does the AIG money sit? Who transacted and who holds the Fannie and Freddie billions? Who handles the proposed $25 billion for the auto industry?

As a practical matter, transparency requires both detail and context. A "Google for Government" database could provide searchable detail on all the quasi-public deals—including who got them and who transacted them. The network map hooks the organizations, people, and contracts together, connecting the dots, giving context. By drawing the public map from public information, everyone shares a common mental model of the whole rescue network, the basis for more cross-boundary collaboration and smarter decisions.

In order for the next president and his advisors to get a grip on the whole Federal Government, just reverse the process and follow the money we already spend. Again, start with the OMB database to reverse-engineer the underlying organizational network along the lines of the OFS mapping idea described here. Each government award/grant/deal has been generated by some front-line team with a supervisor who reports to someone who reports to someone in a chain up to the Secretary of Something, an agency like HHS, Homeland Security, or Defense. Track the money up the reporting chains of jobs and you map much of the federal bureaucracy from the bottom up. The result is a single, navigable network with links to each recipient who, in turn, controls a slice of our precious annual trillions.

And, while we’re at it, why not map the rest of government? The OMB, by virtue of its mandate, has the budgets and headcount for each agency and sub-agency down to the level of every job, sized by its slice of the federal budget as well as its spending in contracts and grants.

Sounds like a big job, constructing this open government network map, but all the information is just sitting there in federal financial systems from OMB to the many human resource and information technology systems that run the government payroll and cut the checks.

PART 1II. Connecting the Dots

Why does mapping our organizations matter? Because complexity we can't see is at the heart of the economic catastrophe that that engulfs us. And it is accelerating. We need to see what we're doing.

No one can lead alone. But we can lead together. If, that is, we have a common mental model of the real working world we inhabit, and can make good local decisions in a visible global context.

As 2008 rolls to a close, the economic crisis and US government-in-transition are completely entangled. We need organizational transparency, a way to both see the new government taking shape and its now-burgeoning role in the economy. We need to see the connections as well as the details.

Two great networks entwine to compose our overlapping social and working worlds: people networks and organizational networks. These two fundamental networks intersect in each and every job. Jobs belong to the organization and are connected to other jobs , while each job holder brings a social network connected to other people. Each shapes the other, the job and the person.

What does the organizational network map of positions and people do for us? Two things: more accountability and more minds.

1. More Accountability

By making the whole network of working connections transparent (e.g., as the OFS grows and makes deals), oversight and accountability become simple by-products of its actions. People in public positions (e.g., government jobs) will be much more likely to act responsibly if the results of their work are visible to all, not just to their supervisors. Similarly in a private organization, visibility of internal networks enables more self-regulating accountability by all.

2. More Minds

With a shared view of the whole, we naturally engage many more minds as our common enterprise develops and responds to the onrush of events. This is true for the functioning of the public's business in which we all have a stake and membership, and it is true for private businesses struggling to be smarter, faster, better. Truly, in the face of such monumental complexity, the whole is smarter than any of us individually.

Mapping government is a starting point for generating a shared picture of the whole, generating increased transparency and trust as well as more accountability and intelligence.

Peter Orszag has been appointed (25 Nov 2008) as the new director of the Office of Management and Budget. OMB, by virtue of its mandate, has the budgets and headcount for each agency and sub-agency down to the level of every job, sized by its slice of the federal budget as well as its spending in contracts and grants (through

It would not be too difficult to create an open government network map. At the top, a few thousand positions are detailed in org charts that can be easily connected together (see our US Gov map in OrgScope). Then for the many, many thousands of civil service jobs, much of the information needed to automatically create the digital org chart is just sitting there in federal financial systems. OMB may have much of it. The rest is in the many government human resource and information technology systems. Hooking the whole thing together is mostly a one-time expense of time and IT resources, and a process can easily be set up to refresh the basic data.

By connecting the many bits of information into a coherent, shareable picture of our common organizational whole, we develop trust, hold one another accountable, and think through solutions with many minds.

We just need to connect the dots and all becomes clear, a visible foundation for rebuilding trust—priority one for enabling all the hard stuff to come.

25 November 2008

Transparency and the new administration

Beginning last week and continuing over the next few months, we all have ringside seats as something quite remarkable happens: the organization with the most power on our precious planet is populating its org chart. More>

22 November 2008

Transparency and the you-name-it crisis - Update 4

We're keeping up as best we can with the expenditures on our behalf but, frankly.. More>

13 November 2008

"Transparency for Trust" (Part 2)
“Seeing is Believing." Part 2 of this essay on blog. More >

12 November 2008

"Transparency for Trust" (Part 1)

We're happy to announce the opening of "Transparency for Trust," a new section of the NetAge website. Here, you'll find the org chart of the new US administration as  President-elect Obama fills those positions...
Introduces Part 1 of this essay on blog. More >

06 November 2008

Transparency and Office of Financial Stability - Update 3

Remember the financial crisis, the $700B bailout, and Henry Paulson? Guess what? They're all still he-eere. More >

24 October 2008

Transparency and Office of Financial Stability - Update 2

In our ongoing series about the disposition of our $700B (and counting), two more contracts, each for about three years (just shy of that) have been awarded, one to PriceWaterhouseCoopers ($191,469.27) and one to Ernst & Young (($492,006.95). More>

19 October 2008

Transparency and Office of Financial Stability - Update 1

So, compatriots, in the interest of ongoing transparency vis-a-vis the economic mess, we're tracking the contracts as they're let by the Office of Financial Stability. You can track them too by signing up for alerts here. Using OrgScope, we're adding each new award and hire to the map. More>

16 October 2008

Transparency and the economic emergency

An open letter to Congress, the American people, and the Office of Financial Stability:
The numbers are dizzying, the trailing zeros too many to even how are we to understand what the US government is doing to avert economic collapse? More>

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