Federal Times Blogs
The 2009 stimulus act may be fading into history, but its legacy will live on in the federal watchdog community. Some 16 inspectors general have joined in a “lessons learned review” from implementation of what is officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
That’s according to a recent letter from Kathleen Tighe, current chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. The review’s purpose is “to identify which actions, processes and mechanisms have been either beneficial or posed challenges” to agencies and IGs in meeting the act’s requirements. Among the specific areas to be examined: performance measures, pre-award processes and (natch) oversight.
Field work began last month; Tighe’s letter to Commerce Secretary John Bryson doesn’t say when the review is to be completed.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., sounds like he’s feeling a little unappreciated for helping pass a tax cut last year as part of the stimulus. From his comments today at a NARFE luncheon in Bowie, Md.:
How many of you know that a third of the recovery act was a tax cut? $260 billion of the $780 [billion] was a tax cut. It was a tax cut that not many people really [said], “Oh, I got a tax cut!” The reason is because it was about $20, $25 a week extra in their take-home pay. The reason it was given in that way is because they would then spend it, and therefore it would help spur the economy.
That was nice, but they didn’t notice it. Nobody’s come up to me and patted me on the back and said, “Thanks for that tax cut.”
The General Services Administration said today that it’s awarded $4 billion in contracts for hundreds of building construction and renovation projects through the Recovery Act.
More than 500 companies across the country have received contracts for the 391 projects GSA has funded so far since the Recovery Act was passed in February 2009. GSA overall received $5.5 billion in stimulus funds for construction projects, including $4 billion to improve the energy efficiency of existing federal buildings.
Vice President Joe Biden praised GSA for stretching its Recovery Act dollars further than originally planned. Due to the slumping economy, bids came in lower than anticipated, allowing GSA to fund an additional $173 million in work.
By delivering on-time and under-budget on these green retrofit projects, we’re not only making more cost-saving building improvements than anticipated, but creating new opportunities for more than 500 companies nationwide.
Some of the projects now underway include construction of a new energy-efficient courthouse in Austin, Texas; installation of a solar roof on the Veterans Affairs building in downtown Philadelphia; and the conversion of a former World War II munitions plant in St. Louis into a high-performance green building.
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.
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.
Despite what you may have seen on the Drudge Report website this morning, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack wants to ensure Americans that his department did not spend $1.2 million for two pounds of sliced ham.
AÂ series of alarmist headlines posted at the top of the Drudge Report home pageÂ lists details on some of the purchasesÂ Agriculture has made through the American Recovery andÂ ReinvestmentÂ Act. The headlines, which link to summaries of contracts on the Recovery.gov website, seem to suggest that Agriculture is wasting stimulus money on groceries — and worse, getting overcharged.
The headlines indicate that Agriculture awarded contracts of nearly $16.8 million for canned pork, $1.6 million for mozzarella cheese and $1.2 million for two pounds of frozen sliced ham.
In response, Vilsack issued a statement this morning explaining that the purchases are for large amounts of food itemsÂ being delivered to food banks, soup kitchens and food pantries to help feed those who have been hardest hit by the economic recession. Agriculture received $100 million through the Recovery Act for the purchases.
The references to ’2 pound frozen ham sliced’ are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy ’2 pounds of ham’ are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191m, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound. In terms of the dairy purchase referenced, USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) purchased 837,936 pounds of mozzarella cheese and 4,039,200 pounds of processed cheese.
Vilsack goes on to say that the purchases do provide a boost to the economy, by helping farmers and ranchers who produce the food, food retailers and those working for manufacturing and transportation companies.
Federal agencies will be trading in more of their gas guzzlers for fuel-efficient cars soon.
The General Services Administration announced today that it ordered 14,105 vehicles from the big three automakers, using $210 million in stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
That’s on top of the 3,100 hybrid vehicles GSA purchased in April for $77 million. Another order for $15 million in advanced technology buses and electric vehicles will be made by Sept. 30, GSAÂ said.
The new vehicles will replace older models that are less fuel efficient. Of the total vehicles purchased so far, 7,924 are Fords,Â 6,348 are from General MotorsÂ andÂ 2,933 are Chrysler vehicles.
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.
The cat-and-mouse political games continue on the Hill Tuesday as Senate leaders debate whether to pass a fiscal year 2009 omnibus to fund the majority of federal agencies.
Democrats beefed up the bill almost 9 percent above former President George W. Bush’s recommendations, saying the money would benefit agencies who had been neglected and provide a boost to build on funding awarded about a month ago in the economic stimulus package. But Republicans have decried the omnibus and stimulus bills as wasteful spending, with some talking about passing a short-term continuing resolution to replace the one that expires Friday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said that could hire dire consequences for agencies.
If the omnibus doesn’t pass, we’re going to face a situation that will cut essential programs dealing with education, law enforcement and basic government services by some $20 billion.”
At an afternoon press availability, Reid defended the bill, saying the funding levels are just Bush’s numbers adjusted for inflation.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., said he plans to offer an amendment that freezes agency funding to fiscal year 2008 numbers, where all but three agencies — Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs — have been operating since Oct. 1.
We already had the stimulus bill. They want to increase federal spending? Fine. They did that in the spending bill. We don’t need to every single time bills come before the Senate to dramatically increase federal spending.”
An amendment offered by Sen. John McCain would have extended the existing CR through Sept. 30, thus keeping funding at the FY 2008 levels. That amendment, which would have eliminated $7.7 billion in earmarks, failed 32-63 Tuesday afternoon.
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 â€” 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.