Stimulus Money Not Being Adequately Tracked
by Texas Nate, Thu Mar 19, 2009 at 02:43:15 PM EDT
One of the most exciting things about finally having a Democratic administration in office is that it sets the right goals and hires the right people.
One of Barack Obama's most laudable goals is to have a government that is transparent to its citizens. His Recovery.gov site which promises to "track every last dime of the stimulus spending is one of the most laudable federal projects in recent memory.
Here's the welcome message at Recovery.gov:
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is an unprecedented effort to jumpstart our economy, create or save millions of jobs, and put a down payment on addressing long-neglected challenges so our country can thrive in the 21st century. The Recovery and Reinvestment Act is an extraordinary response to a crisis unlike any since the Great Depression. With much at stake, the Act provides for unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability so that you will be able to know how, when, and where your tax dollars are being spent. Spearheaded by a new Recovery Board, this Act contains built-in measures to root out waste, inefficiency, and unnecessary spending. This website, Recovery.gov, will be the main vehicle to provide each and every citizen with the ability to monitor the progress of the recovery.
Even better is the impressive public servant that President Obama has pegged to head up the operation, Earl Devaney. Here's what Wikipedia has to say about Mr Devaney's career as an investigator:
During his tenure at the Department of the Interior, Devaney helped to investigate disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff, which led to the resignation of department secretary Gale Norton. Devaney also investigated Julie A. MacDonald, deputy assistant secretary at the Interior Department appointed by Norton in 2002, also resigned after an internal review found that she had violated federal rules by giving government documents to lobbyists for industry. Because of Devaney's findings, the US Fish and Wildlife Service ordered the review of eight endangered species decisions in which MacDonald was involved. Devaney called MacDonald's management "abrupt and abrasive, if not abusive," and U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, who commissioned the report, attributed the "untold waste of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' dollars" to MacDonald's actions.
In 2008, Devaney investigated allegations of wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of the United States Minerals Management Service, and found that "a culture of ethical failure" pervades the agency. Devaney's investigation found that eight officials accepted gifts from energy companies whose value exceeded limits set by ethics rules. The investigation also concluded that several of the officials "frequently consumed alcohol at industry functions, had used cocaine and marijuana, and had sexual relationships with oil and gas company representatives." According to the New York Times, "The reports portray a dysfunctional organization that has been riddled with conflicts of interest, unprofessional behavior and a free-for-all atmosphere for much of the Bush administration's watch.
Unfortunately, Mr. Devaney has been given a nearly impossible mandate. By his own admission:
"I am concerned about data quality," said Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, during a House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing. "The federal government's systems have never been fully successful at producing timely and reliable data."
Devaney has been stuck with a classic unfunded mandate:
"Recovery.gov is not currently a usable database," said Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), the committee's chairman. "I fully recognize the difficulties in this task, but this funding needs uniform standards for all reporting of information."
I'm going to be following the progress of Recovery.gov because I believe it is a great start to solving a very important problem, but its just a start.