July 16, 2020 – Faced with the need to get the most up-to-date information on federal COVID-19 contracts, Derek Willis and his colleagues at ProPublica built a tool – open for all to use – that provides a comprehensive and detailed way to track government pandemic spending.
This isn’t the well-covered stimulus payments and loans to small and large businesses under the Paycheck Protection Program. It tracks federal government spending, for example, to buy masks for medical workers, ventilators for COVID-19 patients, or supplies for laboratories. The dashboard tracks any contract listed in the Federal Procurement Data System that is tagged with the procurement code for COVID-19, as well as entries started in 2020 that contain “COVID-19” in the description. Contracts worth $10,000 or more are included. It has more than 25,000 entries.
The information is available on the government’s website, and Willis noted that there is a weekly COVID-19 contracting report, in spreadsheet format (listed here under “Top Requests”). ProPublica’s aim was to document new contracts as soon as they were posted – without waiting for the next weekly report.
Willis built a program that automatically scrapes the most-recent contracts each day. “By the time I eat my breakfast, it has been updated,” he said.
The database fueled such ProPublica stories as “A Company Run by a White House “Volunteer” With No Experience in Medical Supplies Got $2.4 Million From the Feds for Medical Supplies” and “Federal Agencies Have Spent Millions on KN95 Masks, Often Without Knowing Who Made Them.”
Other databases complied by National Press Foundation to track government spending, and background resources, can be found here