Senate panel gets stimulus tracking update

Friday - 9/11/2009, 6:58am EDT

WFED's Max Cacas

Work continues at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board on the next version of the Recovery.gov website.

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By Max Cacas
Reporter
FederalNewsRadio

Officials at the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board are less than a month away from unveiling to the public the newest version of a first-ever online tracking tool that will allow citizens to track spending on the economic stimulus program.

Thursday's hearing marked the fifth time this year that the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held oversight hearings on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Senator Joseph Lieberman (ID-Conn.), the chairman of the panel, says that in light of the continued mixed and murky picture on the recovery of the nation's economy, he wanted to use Thursday's hearing to explore some possibilities.

Today we're going to take a status check of what's been done so far, and ask about the capabilities of all levels of government to administer Recovery Act programs as the pace of spending picks up this fall as planned. It must be said that much has been accomplished since the Recovery Act was passed.

While economists are never of one mind, most agree that the Recovery Act has helped halt the economic slide and is pointing us toward recovery. And we need only listen to grateful governors and local officials to know that things would have been far worse without the Act's initiatives.

Providing much of the testimony at this hearing on efforts to track the stimulus, Earl Devaney, currently on leave from his day job as Inspector General at the Interior Department, today serving as chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. He first offered a status report on one of his top priorities, the website Recovery.gov.

I am pleased to report that Recovery.gov has been upgraded and its companion reporting website, FederalReporting.gov, has been constructed. FederalReporting.gov, where recipients will enter data on their use of covered funds, has been created, performance-tested, and opened for registration. More than 14,000 recipients have registered with the site since it launched on August 17th.

We are encouraging recipients to register prior to October 1, which is when the system will open for reporting purposes. Once data is reported on FederalReporting.gov, it will then flow into the latest iteration of the public-facing website, which I have been referring to as Recovery.gov Version 2.0.

The fully enhanced version of Recovery.gov, which is scheduled for release by October 10th, will provide visitors with a visually pleasing, user-friendly, and highly interactive website. It will have a mapping capacity that will allow visitors to search for spending all the way down to their own neighborhoods - or their Congressional districts, for that matter. As you can sense, I am quite hopeful about the coming capabilities of Recovery.gov Version 2.0, and the data the website will illuminate once Recovery reporting begins in earnest next month.

And interestingly, Devaney sought to clarify something he has been questioned on repeatedly since taking this job.

The Board continues to focus on its mission of accountability and the attendant goal of minimizing fraud, waste, and mismanagement of funds. Before I go on, I would like to expand briefly on my view of "waste" in the context of the Board's mandate. When I state that the Board is trying to minimize waste, I am referring to an objective assessment of contracting practices, rather than a subjective viewpoint of the nature of a particular expenditure. My view is that - aside from being mindful of the Recovery Act's flat-out prohibition on funding for aquariums, zoos, and the like - the purpose of the Board is not to weigh in on spending choices that come down to an agency's judgment or opinion. Such decisions are the result of political and policy determinations made by multiple layers of watchful individuals. Instead, when the Board focuses on waste in the spending of Recovery funds, we will be looking at the incurring of unnecessary costs due to ineffective practices or controls.

Devaney also says that while they await the final testing of the long-awaited Recovery.gov, he plans to take advantage of a less high tech approach for handling more routine reports from citizens regarding the stimulus.

The Board's contracts compliance staff also continues to review Recovery fund procurements as they occur, coordinating with IG offices on myriad issues. Thus far, we have forwarded more than 100 matters to various IGs to ensure heightened scrutiny of specific procurements that Board staff has identified as potentially problematic. These issues range from incidents of administrative oversight to awards that may raise more serious questions requiring resolution.