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Following on the earlier theme of open government and sharing ideas, FedLine brings you more ways you can contribute to President Obama’s national discussion on improving government.

Today the White House, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and the National Academy of Public Administration launched a site to gather input on how information technology can bring greater transparency to recovery spending.

The week long “National Dialogue” is soliciting ideas from the public on what Recovery.gov should do and how it should do it. Topics include data collection, data storage, data analysis, data presentation, Web site design, and waste, fraud and abuse detection.

At 3:30 p.m., there were approximately 75 ideas posted on The National Dialogue web site, www.thenationaldialogue.org.

Site users can view, rate and comment on ideas — as well as post their own — until May 3.  And, as always, you can post your ideas at FedLine anytime.

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GSA's $5.5 billion stimulus plan

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Update: The General Services Administration has posted the stimulus plan on its Recovery Act website. The 13-page plan can be accessed here.

Original post: The General Services Administration just announced that it’s decided how it will spend the $5.5 billion in stimulus funds it received.

Congress directed that $4.5 billion go toward converting federal buidlings to high-performance green facilities. Another $750 million is available for building and renovating federal buildings and courthouses, and $300 million must be directed to renovating and constructing land ports of entry.

GSA said it’s selected projects based on the speed at which jobs can be created and hwo much added energy efficiency can be gained. GSA intends to award $1 billion in projects within 120 days and the rest of the work in the next two years, according to a press release issued this afternoon.

Money will be spread out across the country, and every state should see at least one GSA-funded stimulus project, the agency said.

GSA said a detailed plan has been submitted to Congress, several days ahead of the April 2 deadline required by law. We’ll have more details in coming days.

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1-800-FRAUD

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Well, not exactly. But the Government Accountability Office has set up a hotline to track stimulus fraud, and the agency is asking everyone — feds, contractors and private citizens — to report waste and abuse.

GAO is one of the agencies tasked with overseeing billions of dollars in stimulus spending, which would be a difficult task even if the agency had no other responsibilities.

“The public can help to identify improper activities or weaknesses in programs that warrant scrutiny,” said Gene Dodaro, the acting comptroller general.

Here’s the contact information for FraudNet, GAO’s new hotline:

By phone: 1-800-424-5454

By fax: 202-512-3086

By e-mail: fraudnet@gao.gov

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Gearing up for grants

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Can agencies handle the upcoming crush of stimulus grant applications? Apparently Grants.gov is already seeing a big spike in traffic. So OMB director Peter Orszag wants agencies to review their grant systems and make improvements to handle the increased workload. The deadline for that review is Friday.

“We want to make sure that the systems are in place to handle what everyone expects will be an unprecedented number of grant applications,” Orszag said.

I wonder, though, if some agencies will be reluctant to invest a lot of time and money in adding new capacity to their grants systems — because that will be excess capacity after the stimulus spending is done.

How is your agency preparing? We’d love to hear — either via e-mail or in the comments section.

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Clouds and feeds

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Just finished a conference call with Vivek Kundra, the president’s pick for chief information officer.

A few highlights. First, he promised to embrace cloud computing — which uses networked software distributed across remote servers, not on individual desktops — whenever it’s permissible under the Federal Information Security Management Act (FISMA) and other security regulations. Cloud computing has been hugely successful in the private sector (Facebook and Gmail, for example, use a “cloud” model) but government has yet to really embrace it.

I reject the view that the public sector has to lag behind the private sector.

Kundra also promised to set up a new Web site, data.gov, that will provide public access to raw government data. He did something similar in the DC government. The site is here; it has feeds about crime and construction permits in the District, among other things. It’s allowed the public to do some cool things with DC data: CrimeReports.com, for example, overlays the crime feed on a Google map of the city, and allows you to track historical levels of crime in a neighborhood.

He also promised to take another look at federal cybersecurity policies once the administration finishes its 60-day review.

Part of that review involves looking closely at private-sector infrastructure… we need to make sure the private sector is fully engaged. And we need to move away from reports and processes and focus on how to do security.

Kundra will be doing two jobs, serving as CIO, and as OMB’s e-gov administrator. President Obama still plans to appoint a chief technology officer.

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Seal of approval

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My friends in advertising tell me branding is the key to selling anything. If that’s true, then the Obama administration must have some great sales gurus on staff. The president mandated today that all stimulus projects carry the snazzy seal you see below.

Where you see this sign, your tax dollars are at work.

Where you see this sign, your tax dollars are at work.

It seems President Obama wants this emblem to be his seal of approval, showing government’s accountability to taxpayers for the billions being spent on projects to stimulate the economy. Here is what he had to say at the Transportation Department today:

These emblems are symbols of our commitment to you, the American people — a commitment to investing your tax dollars wisely, to put Americans to work doing the work that needs to be done.  So when you see them on projects that your tax dollars made possible, let it be a reminder that our government — your government — is doing its part to put the economy back on the road of recovery.

Obama, of course, is not the first president to use logos to spur confidence in policy, especially in tough economic times. During the New Deal, the blue eagle of the National Recovery Administration adorned store fronts and packages of businesses that had adopted fair competition practices, such as minimum wage.

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Orszag: Sufficient numbers of procurement personnel a must

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Office of Management and Budget director Peter Orszag told agency officials gathered for the first recovery plan implementation meeting today to make sure they have enough contracting and acquisition personnel to oversee stimulus spending.

In addition to following the reporting guidelines he laid out in 62 pages last week, Orszag said:

I would identify the need for sufficient numbers of acquisition and contract officers to oversee the money flowing through the system, to make sure that it is well spent.

Earl Devaney, who was named the chair of the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board earlier this week, expressed similar sentiments:

Pre-9/11 we had about … $220 [b]illion worth of contracts per year governmentwide, and now we have over $500 billion. … During the same amount of time the procurement staffs have not risen in the departments; they’ve stayed the same.  So that will be a major challenge for all of the secretaries to address, to make sure that the staff is available to make this happen quickly and to monitor it once it goes out.

And Vice President Joe Biden, who President Barack Obama said last night will be his top oversight official for stimulus spending, said he wants Orszag to get weekly reports from each agency on what they’ve accomplished week-to-week.

Biden said:

I’m going to be a bit of a pain in the neck. I know you’ve got a thousand other things to do in your agencies, but … you’ve got to let me know what roadblocks you encounter … we’ve got to make sure that we hold as many people accountable, not in a draconian way, but to actually get this done.”

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White House Fiscal Responsibility Summit: The Procurement Session

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In case you haven’t heard the White House held a fiscal responsibility summit today. One of the sessions was on procurement.

White House pool reporter Jon Ward of the Washington Times braved what he called a “wonky session” to bring us the following nuggets:

  • Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., will introduce a bill to require the Defense Department to reexamine contracts when costs exceed 25 percent of original estimates. Levin said the military must stop trying to add the latest technology and accept what they have to prevent cost hikes and delays.
  • Deputy Secretary of State for Management, Jack Lew, said government contracting needs more competition. He also asked how government can meet its surge requirements while contracting less.
  • Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., noted that more than half of government contracts are for services and said he believes that shows the government is violating rules prohibiting the outsourcing of inherently governmental functions.
  • Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., called for more oversight of information technology spending, which she believes is out of control. She suggested the government hire more in-house IT specialists, which she noted should be easier given the current economic climate.

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Recovery Act solicitations hit the street

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Federal agencies are wasting no time advertising new business opportunities created under the economic stimulus package, which became law last Tuesday.

Here is what Federal Times has found on FedBizOpps so far:

  • On Feb. 18, the day after President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the Navy issued a solicitation for a $400 million small business construction contract. This multiple award contract will be awarded to five small businesses. The businesses will be hired to perform new construction, repair, demolition and renovation projects at Navy facilities worldwide. Those projects will be funded through stimulus package appropriations.
  • On Feb. 19, the Air Force issued its own solicitation for HUBZone-certified small businesses that can replace electrical lines. The project is valued anywhere from $1 million and $5 million and is funded under the recovery act. 
  • The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, issued its own stimulus-related solicitation on Feb. 20. That stimulus-funded opportunity calls on researchers to submit proposals about new approaches to make “quantum improvements” in treating alcoholism.
  • The Agriculture Department technically doesn’t have any projects posted yet, but that hasn’t stopped it from gathering more information in anticipation of Forest Service projects funded by the stimulus package.  On Feb. 18, the Forest Service Lake States Acquisition Team issued a notice asking for updated information on architecture and engineering contractors in Wisconsin and Michigan.

The Office of Management and Budget has ordered agencies to post all stimulus-related opportunities on FedBizOpps, whether they’re for work that will be awarded under new contracts or existing contracts, such as the General Services Administration Multiple Award Schedules. Stimulus projects must be tagged “Recovery” for easy searching, although it appears from the solicitation notices above, some agencies are still getting used to that idea.

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Earl Devaney, SIGSTIM

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A couple of tidbits about stimulus oversight.

First, the president just announced Earl Devaney as the inspector general for the stimulus program. The name might sound familiar: Devaney has been the Interior Department’s IG since 1999, and he led some big investigations — the Jack Abramoff scandal and the MMS scandal, to name a couple. He’ll undoubtedly have his hands full with the new job (can we call him the SIGSTIM?).

Second, the Interior Department will announce its own “stimulus czar” this week. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told reporters the yet-to-be-named official is someone with lots of oversight experience. The department stands to collect about $3 billion under the economic stimulus package.

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