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RAT board not certifying data it’s not supposed to certify

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Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) sent a letter on Nov. 13 (pdf) to Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, raising some questions about the stimulus data posted on Recovery.gov. Issa was specifically concerned about the “jobs created/saved” data: The site claims 640,329 jobs have been created or saved, but there’s widespread agreement that figure is wrong.

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Industry issues Recovery Act report card: B-

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Government averages a B- when it comes to managing Recovery Act spending. At least according to the grades issued today by market research firm INPUT, in its second report card on the Recovery Act.

Here is how government performed, according to the INPUT report card:

Speed of Spending: B+ (Previous Grade: B+)
Reviewer’s Comments: “The federal government has continued to show unusual adeptness in dispensing a tremendous amount of money very quickly…At its current spending pace, the federal government will achieve 87 percent of the goal set by the president of having $350 billion spent by Sept. 30, 2010”

Contracting Effectiveness: B (Previous Grade: C-)
Reviewer’s Comments: “Federal agencies significantly improved in the use of fixed-price contracts and the percentage of contract awards made to small businesses…The federal government has awarded 48 percent of reported contract obligations using fixed-price contracts, a 30 percent increase over INPUT’s initial report card.”

Transparency and Reporting: C- (Previous Grade: D)
Reviewer’s Comments: “Each new report has been late…and the data quality of each new report has been poor upon release. However, overtime the quality and completeness of reports have improved. INPUT expects this will continue to be the case with the new recipient reports…A major area of disappointment continues to be the lack of transparency surrounding grant applications for many of the grant programs funded by the Recovery Act.”

Jobs Created: Incomplete (Previous Grade: Incomplete)
Reviewer’s Comments: “While the efforts to count jobs created or saved is a laudable goal, INPUT believes that accurate reporting of job creation is ultimately unknowable because of the number of recipients reporting, the complexity of the reports and the vagueness in the definition of a saved job.”

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Recovery.gov and job creation

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I’ve probably made this point before, but it’s worth making again. There’s a lot of snark going around about the job-creation figures released last week on Recovery.gov. The conservative National Review, for example, jokes that the data shows an “embarrass[ing]” $533,000-per-job performance by the economic stimulus bill.

That $533,000 figure comes from dividing the total amount of money spent so far on contracts, $16 billion, by the number of jobs they created, 30,000. $533,000 is more than 10 times the median national income — so if it takes that much money to create a job, the stimulus bill must be wildly inefficient, right?

Wrong. The $533,000-per-job figure is wildly misleading, for two reasons.

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Recovery.gov: Recipient reporting data goes live

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The Recovery Accountability and Transparency board has posted the first batch of recipient reporting data on Recovery.gov.

A little background for those of you who don’t follow the stimulus bill quite as obsessively as we do:

Recovery.gov already had agency reporting data, which comes directly from the agencies that awarded the money. But the recipients of that money are also required to report, on a quarterly basis, on each contract, grant or loan they receive. The first round of reporting ended on Oct. 10, and the RAT board has staretd posting that data online.

This data — in theory — is more detailed than the agency-reported data; it also enumerates the number of jobs created or saved by each project.

One big caveat: This first round of data only covers contracts awarded using stimulus money, not grants or loans. Contracts represent roughly $16 billion in spending, or less than 10 percent of the total stimulus money awarded to date. The grant/loan data should be available by Oct. 30.

So be careful about jumping to any conclusions based on this data — it’s a small fraction of the total stimulus spending.

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New Recovery.gov goes live

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You can visit it here, obviously. I got a preview of the site on Friday, along with about a dozen other journalists, at a session hosted by the “RAT board” and Smartronix, the company that developed the site.

Overall it’s a big improvement over the previous Recovery.gov site. The new site includes a mapping feature that allows you to view spending data by state, county, and congressional district; it also contains exponentially more spending data than the previous site.

There are still some glaring omissions: You can’t enter the name of a contractor and view all contracts awarded to that company, for example. Smartronix says that feature (and others) will be added in future releases.

The biggest omission, of course, is “recipient data” — spending data reported by the recipients of federal grants and contracts. Recipients aren’t required to start reporting until Oct. 1; Smartronix says the data will go live in mid-to-late October.

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DOT funds small business recovery with recovery funds

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I recently reported that the Small Business Administration and the Commerce Department were planning to participate in more than 200 events boost small businesses contracting under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

But it looks like those agencies aren’t the only ones working to ensure small businesses benefit from stimulus spending. The Transportation Department announced today that it has dedicated $20 million in Recovery Act funds to create a “Disadvantaged Business Enterprise Bonding Assistance Program.”

The program, which is run by the department’s Office of Small Disadvantaged Business Utilization, allows small and disadvantaged businesses to apply for reimbursements for the bonding premiums and fees they pay when competing for transportation infrastructure projects, according to a department news release.

The program will help small and disadvantaged businesses better compete for Recovery Act-funded transportation projects by helping them get access to the money they need to participate in government contracting.

“These Recovery dollars will help level the playing field so these companies have the tools and resources they need to compete,” Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said in the news release.

The announcements come just as SBA reported that agencies missed their 23 percent small business spending goal for the third year running. Last year, agencies spent approximately $94 billion, or 21.5 percent, of their contracting dollars through small businesses. The Obama administration said it hoped to reach those goals through improved education and outreach to small businesses and federal agencies.

For those readers who want to know when and where SBA and Commerce are holding or participating in events, I’m told SBA is compiling the list and will post it on the SBA Web site soon.

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Pork you can believe in, ctd.

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Kudos to Tim for providing some context on USDA’s “pork purchases.” I’ve never understood why Matt Drudge’s Web site has such influence over the Washington news cycle; he posts a few sensational links with absolutely no context, and suddenly they become the “big story” of the day. Why?

Anyway, some reporters and politicians have questioned whether spending $20 million on pork helps the economy. So just to repeat a point we made in February: All spending is stimulative. The government could buy $787 billion worth of ham, or pay laborers $787 billion to dig holes and fill them back up again, and it would stimulate the economy — because that $787 billion is still being spent.

It wouldn’t be the best use of the money, of course, but it would be stimulative spending nonetheless.

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$18 million Recovery.gov contract awarded

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GSA announced last night that it has awarded a contract for the Recovery.gov redesign; the $18 million contract went to Smartronix, a Maryland-based IT firm. It beat out 58 other bidders.

The first part of the contract is worth about $9.5 million through January; other options, which extend through January 2014, are worth another $8.5 million or so.

Redesigning the recovery site is a big undertaking; it needs to be online by mid-October, when state and local governments start reporting their stimulus spending data. You’ll find more details about that in my interview with Earl Devaney from last week; we’ll also have a story about the redesign in Monday’s paper.

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Another 100 Day Milestone

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The Recovery Act has been in place for 100 days today. To celebrate, the White House published this report today highlighting the effects of 100 projects funded through the act.

Already $112 billion in funds have been spent and over 150,000 jobs created, according to the White House.

The White House is currently working on a roadmap for the next 100 days and in October plans to post detailed spending information on Recovery.gov, according to the White House blog.

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Video tour of federal green roofs

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Last week, I wrote about how federal agencies are using some of the billions of dollars in stimulus funds flowing to them for facility and energy projects to replace or retrofit their building rooftops with green alternatives.

Options being considered include thin solar films that are imbedded into roofs, additional insulation to repel heat, and vegetative roofs such as a 5,000-square-foot garden patch atop the seven-story Interior Department headquarters building in Washington.

Other agencies have outfitted their roofs with vegetation, recognizing both the environmental and economic benefits. Our videographer, Colin Kelly, recently toured two examples outside the nation’s capital in Suitland, Md. Follow the links for video of green roofs at the Census Bureau headquarters and at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration facility.

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