Accountable Strategies blog

A blog about accountability issues in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors

Posts Tagged ‘economic stimulus’

Tracking the stimulus money

Posted by David Kassel on September 24, 2009

In the name of transparency and accountability, a lot of people are putting a lot of effort into tracking the federal economic stimulus money now flowing into cities and states.

The question is how effective and valuable are the results of those tracking efforts?  Are the federal government and the states getting a real handle on the funding under the economic stimulus bill, also known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009?

In May, the Washington Post reported that the White House supported tracking site, Recovery.gov, was providing little useful information about where the money was going under the program.  Moreover, the reporting requirements on public agencies didn’t extend to the contractor level, according to The Post.   The site now lists contractors, but the results, as noted below, may not always be accurate.

On the other hand, Recovery.org, a privately operated site by Onvia, posts stimulus-related, government bid solicitations, which identify specific stimulus projects in individual states.  This appears to involve much more detailed information than that available on the government site.  To be fair, Onvia, as the Post pointed out, has spent more than a decade developing its search technology.  Recovery.gov is only been around for a few months.

The first quarterly reports from the states are due October 1, and will be posted on the government site.  Under the Recovery Act, states and localities must report quarterly on the use of the funds and provide estimates of the number of jobs created and retained.

I went onto both the federal and the private-sector websites and tried to see for myself what was going on.  I chose my home state of Massachusetts.

As of September 18, 60 stimulus contracts in Massachusetts were displayed on the government’s Recovery.gov website.   I couldn’t find a total for the value of all of those contracts.  In at least one case, something seemed to be wrong.   According to the information displayed on the site, the Columbia Construction Company of Reading, MA, had recieved a $57 million contract from the General Services Administration for a roof replacement of a Veterans Affairs Center in Philadelphia, PA.  The project location was listed as Andover, MA.  Why would a roof replacement of a federal building in Philadelphia be listed as a Massachusetts project and why would it cost that much?

I went to the private-sector, Recovery.org site.

As of September 20, Recovery.org listed 537 projects totalling $1.8 billion in Massachusetts.  There was no listing here of the Philadelphia roof replacement project under Andover, Massachusetts.  However, this site did list a $57 million project to modernize the IRS Service Center in Andover, MA.  The Columbia Construction Company was listed there as the winner of the contract.  That made more sense.  

Recovery.org also lists projects voted by viewers as the most and least worthwhile, and most expensive.  For instance, the most expensive project listed on September 20 was a $270 million project to build a tunnel and building in Alameda and Contra Costa counties in California.  The most unnecessary project was a tiny $7,000 project to purchase solar bus stop signage in Weirton, W. VA.    The second most unnecessary project was a $100 million task order contract to pre-selected contractors to support construction activities in the National Park Service in New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas.

Meanwhile, there are other problems in tracking the federal stimulus money that have nothing to do with these two websites.   One of them is that the Single Audit mechanism for state and local governments doesn’t work well in assessing the economic stimulus program, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The Single Audit Act requires state and local governments and nonprofit organizations receiving more than $500,000 in federal awards in a year to obtain an audit.   The GAO reported that Single Audit reporting deadline is too late to provide audit results in time for the audited entity to take action on deficiencies noted in Recovery Act programs.  The GAO recommended that Congress put more money into Single Audit activities.

Clearly, close and accurate tracking of this funding is needed, not only to satisfy the public that the money is being used for the right things, but to help stem the inevitable waste, fraud and abuse.  As of September 2, according to the GAO, the agency had received 80 allegations of fraud and other ethics issues related to stimulus funding that were considered credible enough to warrant further review. 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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