- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2013

Has government waste become so bad that we need an encyclopedia to keep track? One watchdog group seems to think so and has started a publicly edited, crowdsourced website that compiles cases of fiscal abuse, modeled after the popular site Wikipedia.

Spendopedia, launched this month, is an attempt to organize examples of fiscal waste into a central, easily searchable database.

“Too often, information about wasteful spending pops in a news story or blog post, and then disappears into the black hole of the Internet,” said Joe Mansour, who dreamed up the project. “Our goal for Spendopedia was to create a Wikipedia-style resource for citizens to learn more about how their hard-earned tax dollars are being spent.”

The site documents programs that have been labeled as wasteful by news organizations, members of Congress or federal investigators. Each example of fiscal abuse gets its own article that includes a total cost to taxpayers.

Spendopedia says it has tracked more than $170 billion in questionable spending, but the site also tries to put that in terms easy to understand. The amount of waste is worth almost 40 billion Big Macs, 5 million new cars, 124 billion cups of coffee, or enough money to pay the salaries of 3 million soldiers, the site says.

The website catalogs more than 100 examples of waste, including a lavish conference of the Government Services Administration and excessive severance packages at the Energy Department.

The general public can sign up for and start posting to the site, “be they a concerned citizen, a journalist, a blogger or a Capitol Hill staffer,” Mr. Mansour said.

Editors will maintain strict control to prevent articles from descending into partisan bickering. Examples of waste are taken only from news reports and government sources, and users will face brief moratoriums before they can begin creating articles.

The website is a project of Public Notice Research and Education Fund, a nonprofit focused on the economy and educating how government actions can affect finances. Mr. Mansour is the digital director at the organization.

“With our national debt at nearly $17 trillion and our long-term fiscal outlook hanging in the balance, it’s more important than ever for Americans to be informed and engaged about their government’s spending,” he said.

Interest in preventing government waste has been renewed in Washington as the nation faces trillions of dollars worth of debt. The Washington Times has launched a weekly distinction, the Golden Hammer, which marks the most egregious examples of wasted taxpayer dollars.

That has included an excessive $32 billion for Medicaid innovation programs, $1 billion wasted in fees and fines paid to the Afghan government and $100 million for a housing assistance program that government officials couldn’t prove was working.

The Spendopedia site is modeled after Wikipedia, a free, open-sourced online encyclopedia that lets users post and edit entries. Thousands of similar publicly edited sites, known as “wikis,” cover a range of topics, including the biology-focused Wikispecies, Memory Alpha, a site about “Star Trek,” and the gardening site Gardenology.

The government waste website can be found at spendopedia.org.