Wonks R Us

Where Public Policy and Small Business Meet

Transparency

Whenever I would walk in front of the tv as a child (and I mean from when I started walking onwards), my father would voice his objection by reminding me that I was not transparent.  Which means I probably learned the word “transparent” before the average kid.

I have also known for a long time that the federal budget is a challenging morass verging on incomprehensibility (I say this with a masters in government budgeting & finance.  If I find it challenging to understand, than even the above-average citizen doesn’t have a shot in hell).  Hopefully the Obama administration is going to help reduce the opacity of the federal budget and help everyone understand where our tax dollars are going.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has an entire 39 page section laying out the the transparency and oversight requirements in a general way (more details below).  There is now an additional 60 page document that serves as the initial implementation guide for the first wave of money to be released in the next couple of weeks.  More details on implementation in a future post.

Local Oversight

The chief executive of the jurisdiction (whether that is the governor, mayor, commission chair, etc.) is accountable for the appropriate use of infrastructure stimulus dollars.  There has always been a requirement to report on how government funds are spent (says she who has prepared NSF grant reports more times than she cares to remember), but this time the accountability is to the public.  Each jurisdiction is required to post a certification that includes the following:

  • A description of what the money is to/or was used for (by project, not in summary)
  • The estimated total cost of the project
  • The amount of the project that came from stimulus funds

The recipient of recovery funds (including an agency, a business or a jurisdiction–but not an individual) has ten (10) days after each calendar quarter must report on:

  • The total amount of stimulus funds received
  • The amount of those funds that have been either expended or obligated to programs, projects or activities
  • A detailed list of the programs, projects or activities, to include:
    • The name of the program, project or activity
    • A description of the program, project or activity
    • An evaluation of the completion status of the program, project or activity
    • An estimate of the number of jobs created and retained by the program, project or activity
    • For infrastructure funds only – The purpose, total cost and rationale for funding the infrastructure project

This reporting sounds onerous, but there is a stipulation in the bill that directs that there be a user-friendly means for recipients of the covered funds to meet the reporting requirements.

All of these reports are subject to review, both through federal oversight and public comment.  All findings and audits will be available through Recovery.gov.

The act also establishes a Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board whose primary responsibility is to prevent fraud, waste and abuse of stimulus funds. They are to do this by reviewing competition requirements, auditing stimulus fund allocations, identifying training inadequacies and ensuring that there are adequate personnel and ensuring that there are overseeing stimulus fund grants, and verifying that there are appropriate mechanisms for interagency collaboration aorund the use of stimulus funds.

The website

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board’s web site needs to explain what this all means to citizens.  That means no governmentese.  It also requires that the website include:

  • Findings from all groups responsible for oversight
  • Data on relevant economic, financial, grant and contract information in a user-friendly way.
  • To whatever extent possible, job information to connect job seekers to employment opportunties that result from stimulus fund investments.

To summarize – every entity, whether it be public, private or nonprofit, is required to demonstrate that they are using stimulus funds appropriately and effectively.  In every case, there is an identified party that is responsible should the funds be mis-used.  Finally, there will be an easy to access and to understand way for the public to watch the entire process unfold by accessing Recovery.gov.

I know, the devil is in the details, but I am beginning to wade through that information as it emerges.  So stay tuned.

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