Diary

Obama Stimulus Tracking Site Up and Running By... October

I have not yet blogged about Recovery.org, the indispensable site set up by Onvia to keep track of how the Obama administration is spending your ‘stimulus’ money. Recovery.org offers a number of ways to search – by state, county and program. They provide updates on how much stimulus funding is spent over time, and how may jobs the administration contends have been created (or saved). The site is doing quite well considering that it must rely on federal agencies for much of its information.

While Recover.org is a private site, the Obama administration has also set up its own site – Recovery.gov. It does not seem to be as up-to-date as the private site, but you can’t really expect a government agency to to move as efficiently or nimbly as the private sector. But while they may lag behind, they’re doing their best to ensure that Recovery.gov is running smoothly by… October:

During a recent field hearing in Brooklyn, N.Y., House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., said Recovery.gov is “not a useful database where citizens can go to see where their money is being spent.” Do you agree with that assessment? How long will it be before the site meets its goals?

Devaney: It has to be — maybe not the best it can ever be — but it has to be at a certain capacity come October. That’s when the data starts rushing back into the government. By then, the site needs to be robust enough to house that data and to display it to the American public. So, in the near term the site is under development. It’s not yet where it’s envisioned to be by the Recovery Act, nor should anyone have expected it to be after only a couple of months…

And by the way, even when Obama’s transparency site is fully up-and-running, it may not actually tell you how your money is being spent:

GE: The April 3 Office of Management and Budget Recovery Act guidance does not require the reporting of all funds distributed at the local level. How is that going to affect your ability to track those funds?

Devaney: I am not going to say to you that I am not concerned about that… It’s very clear that if money goes directly to the recipient they have to report back. But, when it’s going to the states, some are going to be very demanding with regard to what they get back from their recipients and I would imagine some others will not be. So we will have to see what’s going on there, and that’s an issue OMB is going to have to deal with.

Lastly, there might be some waste – quite a bit of waste, in fact.

GE: A few months back you said that by some estimates, if the government followed a normal course of business, it could expect to lose 7 percent of stimulus funds, or $55.1 billion, to fraud. Obviously, you would like to keep that figure at zero. But realistically, is there a level you’re aiming to stay below?

Devaney: I was actually responding to a question from a reporter [with the Wall Street Journal] and the question was, have I seen the 7 percent figure. I have been questioned heavily about that number. And obviously $55.1 billion is an unacceptable amount of fraud and waste. I have no quarrel with that. That figure comes from the Certified Fraud Examiners Association and they put out a figure every year. While the interviewer was asking the question I was doing the math on a piece of paper. I was a little horrified myself when I saw what it was.

I think this money is tagged in a way that no other federal money has been tagged before. . . . Every dollar is reported under something called recovery. That is not the case with other government expenditures, so we should be able to follow that money. Every contract theoretically is going to be visible and every recipient is going to known. And these are the kinds of things that on some level will have an effect on self-correcting behavior… I am very optimistic about this and I am certainly not predicting any particular percentage, but $55.1 billion is not something I am anticipating.

Devaney thinks the waste will fall smewhere south of $55.1 billion – but even that isn’t a promise. He’s just ‘not anticipating’ more than that. One person we know won’t object is Charlie Schumer – he argued that the American people don’t care about a few billion dollars of waste. President Obama however, set a higher standard. He promised not a penny of waste:

Obama and Vice President Joe Biden launched a fresh effort to assure US taxpayers that their money will be well spent in igniting economic recovery, at an implementation conference for government bureaucrats.

“We’re going to have to make sure that every single dollar is well spent. If we see money being misspent, we’re going to put a stop to it, and we will call it out and we will publicize it,” said Obama, who triggered an audible gasp from his audience with an announced appearance at the meeting.

Of course we always knew that the President was lying – that it was always impossible to spend hundreds of billions of dollars without any waste. But it is the lamest and most transparent of bait-and-switches to make the promise, and then send a little-known official to admit that he’s expecting tens of billions of dollars to be wasted.

When President Obama wants $50 billion more for schools, or health care, or banks, or welfare – as we know he will – Congress should insist he recover the money lost here, first.