Update (7/14): We’ve renamed our bot @DoDContractsBot to better reflect its longtime handle, as well as to make its purpose more immediately clear.
A few weeks ago, the L.A. Times posted a story about a local earthquake – and did it just eight minutes after the 4.4-magnitude temblor shook the city.
How? An enterprising reporter, Ken Schwencke, had written a computer program to scan the US Geologic Survey’s auto-generated quake emails for seismic events of a certain strength within a certain radius of Los Angeles. When the March 17 quake hit, the program plugged the time, epicenter, and a few other bits of data into a prewritten script, then emailed the resulting text to Schwencke, who forwarded it to the Times’ web desk. The article was posted under Schwencke’s byline, with this tagline: “This information comes from the USGS Earthquake Notification Service and this post was created by an algorithm written by the author.”
That inspired us at Defense News to do something similar. Enter BlueTopBot. On workdays after 5 p.m., the Pentagon publishes a press release announcing major contracts — those worth more than $6.5 million — awarded to industry. (The releases are known as “blue-toppers,” after the colored stripe atop the paper copies once distributed to the Pentagon press.) At 5:30 p.m., our bot scans the day’s contracts, adds up their total potential value, and tweets the sum at
Note that the award figures released by DoD are often just potential amounts, and not necessarily the numbers that will appear on the contractor’s check. DoD uses many types of contract awards; for example, a given announcement may mean merely that a contractor or a group of contractors have become eligible to bid on various bits of work that add up to the amount “awarded.”
Still, looking back over the bot’s first two weeks of existence, it’s at least interesting to see that the daily total potential value of DoD’s contracts has only once been less than $100 million, while the high topped $6 billion.
Thoughts? Ideas? Email me.