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Stimulus Watchdog Warns of Challenges in Tracking Funds

By Ed O'Keefe

The chief government overseer for the distribution of economic stimulus funds warned lawmakers today that he faces several challenges in developing and implementing a system for tracking those funds and minimizing fraud and abuse.

During his first appearance before Congress in his new role as chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board (RAT), Earl Devaney emphasized the value of the new Recovery.gov Web site in bringing transparency to the process, but warned that its success could be hindered by the federal government's historic inability to compile and transmit reliable data.

"The federal government's systems have never been fully successful at producing timely and reliable data," Devaney said. "Add to that problem the difficulty of transmitting and reporting data up through multiple layers of government ... and you begin to understand the basis for my concern."

Devaney also cautioned lawmakers that insufficient staffing levels would make tracking the funds more challenging. "Federal agencies, in particular, will have great difficulty attracting and hiring enough procurement professionals to minimize the risks associated with moving this amount of money quickly to accomplish the Recovery Act's goals." Asked later about his board's ability to compile and post citizen feedback on Recovery.gov, Devaney said "I think we’re going to have to figure out if we can do it and not hire 400 people to do that."

Today's comments mirrored Devaney's recent statements to state and local officials regarding his plans to establish an easy-to-use, one-stop Web site for citizens, companies and reporters seeking ways to track federal funds.

Information on the site "must be easily retrievable and understood by taxpayers, lawmakers, and watchdog groups alike," he said during his testimony. "The public must be given the opportunity to provide feedback and be heard." Later he said he wants all inspector general reports posted on the site, "to assure that transparency and accountability… is actually achieved," and suggested "There's probably not a reporter in America who won’t wake up and not click on that Web site."

Members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee seemed most interested in Devaney's actual duties. Pressed by Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) for an accounting of his recent meetings, Devaney said he has met with "three or four times" with Vice President Biden, who is leading the administration's stimulus efforts.

"I think the president has designated the vice president in charge of the stimulus funds and in turn, I’m acting as the chair of this board and reporting to the vice president but doing so in an independent way," Devaney said. Asked how often he will meet with Biden, "My understanding is that I’m now on his calendar at least once a week."

"I certainly have seen him as much as I needed to and I’ve been given assurances that I can see him as often as I need to."

Rep. Dan Burton (R-Ind.) asked Devaney to clarify previous warnings about an inevitable mismanagement of at least some stimulus funds, possibly as high as $55 billion.

"Obviously the challenge is to try to minimize those losses. It’s naive to think there won’t be people who try to [de]fraud the government. I think we have to expect it," he said, adding later that "we’re going to try our very best to keep that to a minimum."

By Ed O'Keefe  | March 19, 2009; 1:53 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
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Comments

RAT? Seriously?

Posted by: dkp01 | March 19, 2009 2:19 PM | Report abuse

wonderful piece ed.
I don't think the common man of America really truly understands what it means
"to flow proper data"
Mr Devaney speaks the bottom line truth. Because in the end, it is the data that needs to be factual. The manipulation of data can be "ever so slight" from agency to agency.

And I would like to note that the "press" should start concentrating on the true data first and foremost in their reporting. The press is not helping the common man to understand the facts, the data.

I would be happy to align and flow chart any data for Rahm Emanuel.
oh yeah baby.

Posted by: TheBabeNemo | March 19, 2009 3:36 PM | Report abuse

Hey, I thought it is Joe Biden's job to make sure that money does not get pissed away. Why worry? Joe's on the job.

Posted by: BubbaRight | March 19, 2009 3:54 PM | Report abuse

If you are interested in monitoring all the government recovery efforts -- including for the stimulus and TARP -- check out www.usbudgetwatch.org/stimulus .

Posted by: marc12 | March 19, 2009 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Oh...isn't that convenient. Obama's broken promise of transparency is due to a computer problem?

Gosh...the bank has been doing a pretty good job of keeping track of my balance. Hey I have an idea! Let's Nationalize the banks and let the Government take care of the data!

Also...

[quote from article] "Information on the site "must be easily retrievable and understood by taxpayers, lawmakers, and watchdog groups alike," he said during his testimony. "The public must be given the opportunity to provide feedback and be heard." "

Since when has the government EVER delivered anything easily understood and provide any type of feedback mechanism that they actually listen too?

I'm feeling the pain...
nnngggyaaahhhh!!!

Yikes - I hope they keep their hands out of my bank acount!

Posted by: daveAZ | March 19, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

I looked at www.usbudgetwatch.org/stimulus and under one of the AIG entries it says this...

"Notes: Due to uncertain funding levels for newly announced facilities, amount spent is currently unknown. Activities of the Federal Reserve are not directly recorded in the federal budget. However, each year the Federal Reserve remits a portion of its earnings to the general treasury. This remittance is generally in the range of $20-$30 billion per year, but the CBO estimates that the Fed's earnings will be lower by approximately $90 billion over the next ten years. "

Gee...that's some excelent transparency and watchdog effort! NOT!! let's just estimate to the nearest Ten-Billion...that's a pretty good way to do it...yeah that's the ticket!! And if the remittance is generally in the 20-30 Billion...where in Sam-Hill does the CBO get 90 billion over the next 10 years...when it's normally over 200 billion for 10 years.

Hmmm...Activities in the "FEDERAL" Reserve are NOT directly recored in the "FEDERAL" budget!? Gosh...that sounds like a problem. It's crazier than I thought.

Isn't the government great?

Obama transparency...gosh I feel informed.

Pretend I'm a little old lady at a "Fast Government" counter saying "Where's the Hope?"


Posted by: daveAZ | March 19, 2009 5:22 PM | Report abuse


folks must also realize that TARP is the Economic Stabliziation Act of 2008(2nd half)...

not HR1, commonly referred to as The Stimulus.

and see----it's the data. The data must be factual.

President Obama and his administration have initiated wonderful (for lack of better wording) "places where the common man can go and find out things".
I was amazed on Jan 20th at 12:01. I made it a point to log into the WhiteHouse.gov (which I have been on since its inception) and the difference was amazing.
It was like the doors of information opened. The exchange of ideas, etc.

Internet usage by the NEW HIP White House.
Just another thing for repulsives to get all mad and jealous about.


Posted by: TheBabeNemo | March 19, 2009 5:42 PM | Report abuse


Dear Mr. Evaney:

I am a great supporter of the stimulus package but I have great concern on how much recovery.gov can fullfill it's mission statement. One Comment you made regarding what recovery.org can or cannot do indicated you are poorly informed about how techonolgy works today.

Let me quote one paragraph out of the Washington posts as an example:-

"Asked later about his board's ability to compile and post citizen feedback on Recovery.gov, Devaney said "I think we’re going to have to figure out if we can do it and not hire 400 people to do that"

Your IT people are either not able to inform you or they are also under the impression it would be a complicated effort to compile and post citizen feedback on recovery.gov.

My personal experience of posting reader's input on a website told me it is a fairly simple task. Most of the time it can be done automatically. So it is definitely not a 400 people job. Please surround yourself with some real IT experts and stop making excuses.

Cecilia Chang, Silicon Valley

Posted by: ccj4na | March 25, 2009 5:57 PM | Report abuse

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