At the urging of the Obama administration, every state has created its own site reporting how it is spending money from the $747 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). Many of these sites are underperforming. The new study, “Show Us the Stimulus: An Evaluation of State Government Recovery Act Websites,” (PDF) by Good Jobs First, ranks state stimulus sites using research data from the Ford Foundation. Rankings are based on a variety of criteria: how well each state maps and tracks stimulus spending, reports spending on private contractors, and how easy (or difficult) each site makes finding the data.

At the top of the ARRA list are Maryland, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia and New York. At the bottom are Illinois, Utah, Kentucky, Kansas and Alabama.

The majority of the other states scored poorly.

The study places specific emphasis on state highway-project spending, “because road projects have traditionally been a favorite way to trying to jumpstart a faltering economy, and they (along with other transportation projects) constitute one of the larger individual portions of the Recovery Act,” according to the report.

Maryland did the best job reporting road-project expenditures; Illinois and Kentucky, the worst.

How did Maryland develop the most transparent stimulus ARRA site? First, it is the only state to post county unemployment and foreclosure levels on its main recovery site. It is also one of only eleven states to map where specific ARRA projects are taking place in the state, and one of only four to provide employment data, showing the amount of new jobs each project has created.

It is the only state to superimpose project locations “on patterns of distress and other variables,” and is one of only two states that allow users to find the proximity of projects by an address search.

“[T]he use of ARRA websites to inform the public is more than a matter of providing a service to state residents. The way in which the information is presented shapes public attitudes toward the stimulus and could play a significant role in debates over future government interventions in the economy,” according to the report.

By Mark Alvarez