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Eye Opener: The Case for Waste

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Happy Monday! Here's hoping your holiday weekend went well. It continues for many today at the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. Education Secretary Arne Duncan will read to youngsters from the Storytime Stage, while musicians Fergie, Ziggy Marley, Jessica Jarrell, SteveSongs and Imagination Movers will entertain on the music stage. Perhaps best of all, Chef José Andrés (Almost Mrs. Eye's favorite D.C. restaurateur) will join other chefs and the White House kitchen staff in preparing healthy eating demonstrations in the Kid’s Kitchen.

As for official Washington, President Obama and Vice President Biden will visit the Department of Transportation to mark the 2000th project funded with the economic stimulus funds. That comes as colleague Alec MacGillis, writes in The Post's Sunday Outlook section about tracking potential waste, fraud and abuse of stimulus funds: "Missing amid all these high-minded calls to protect taxpayer dollars is an awkward question: When the whole point of a major government spending program is to stimulate the faltering economy as quickly as possible, what exactly counts as "wasted" money?"

Alec also writes that "Instead of catching a break because of the time pressures, the stimulus is receiving far greater scrutiny than regular government spending. The Interior Department's highly regarded inspector general, Earl Devaney, is heading a new stimulus oversight board, and the law sets aside $350 million in oversight funds, which allows the federal agencies' inspectors general and the GAO to hire hundreds of additional auditors.

"Federal agencies and departments must produce weekly reports on how they are disbursing their part of the stimulus. On top of the usual paperwork, state officials handling the money must tell Washington how many jobs are being created and get governors to sign off on spending. The government has set up a Web site, Recovery.gov, to track spending, and 40 states have similar ones. The White House bills the federal site as the ultimate in transparency, but so far its tens of thousands of daily visitors are finding little information as the creators struggle to get officials to file up-to-date reports. Left undefined is just what kind of 'waste' is being targeted.

Ponder Alec's thoughts
and leave your impressions in the comment section below.

In other news...

VA to Review Seizure of Reporter's Gear: The Eye reports today that the department "today will begin a review of last week's confiscation of a WAMU radio reporter's recording equipment during a public forum at the VA hospital in the District."

The Republican in Obama's Corner: "Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a longtime GOP lawmaker, is expected to play a key role in the White House's bipartisan outreach in Congress," reports Mike Dorning of the LA Times.

Stimulus Opening Doors in Health Care IT: "The Obama administration is pushing to digitize health records; electronic records depend on fast data networks, interoperable software systems and devices to enter and track patient data," writes The Post's Kim Hart, who profiles D.C.-area tech companies diving into the health care field for the first time.

Va. Community Wants Stimulus Funds for Beach Sand: "Some cities want bridges and schools from the federal stimulus plan. Virginia Beach wants all of that and sand, too," reports Deidre Fernandes of The Virginian-Pilot. "Operation Big Beach, the city's and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' last major beach replenishment effort, ended in 2002. Since then, parts of the Oceanfront have eroded by 70 feet to about 200 feet wide." ... "The dust-up over this stimulus money is part of a long-standing debate about whether the federal government should pay for any beach replenishment efforts. Both the Clinton and Bush administrations didn't think so and argued it was a local expense."

Interior Announces First Stimulus Projects: "Ultimately, Interior will spend about $3 billion of the nearly $800 billion allocated under the stimulus plan," reports Katherine McIntire Peters of Gov Exec. Interior Secretary Ken "Salazar said department officials will spend $140 million to fund 308 U.S. Geological Survey projects across all 50 states to repair and build facilities; replace and upgrade scientific equipment; advance critical national mapping activities; and reduce the backlog of deferred maintenance."

USDA Touts Success With Intern Program: Gov Exec's Alyssa Rosenberg reports that "A partnership between the Agriculture Department and the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to help interns land full-time government jobs could provide a recruitment model for other federal agencies to follow."

Pentagon Prioritizes Pursuit Of Alternative Fuel Sources: "Spurred by this grim reality, the Pentagon, which traditionally has not made saving energy much of a priority, has launched initiatives to find alternative fuel sources. The goals include saving money, preserving dwindling natural resources and lessening U.S. dependence on foreign sources," reports The Post's Steve Vogel.

Volcker Assumes Smaller-Than-Expected Role With Obama: "In the Obama White House, the role of the 81-year-old former chairman of the Federal Reserve has been more limited," reports Monica Langley of the Wall Street Journal. "The one-time central banker has been put in charge of a presidential advisory board that hasn't yet had a formal meeting. It has been nearly a month since he has seen Mr. Obama. Mr. Volcker hasn't been a main player in key decisions handling the global financial crisis."

Shortfalls Unraveled Stevens's Conviction: The Post's Carrie Johnson reconstructs the botched prosecution of former senator Ted Stevens. Her conclusion: "The Justice Department team charged with prosecuting...[Stevens] ...miscalculated by not seeking more time to prepare for the high-stakes corruption trial and fell victim to inexperience and thin staffing, which contributed to its alleged mishandling of witnesses and evidence, according to interviews with more than a dozen lawyers who followed the case."

GAO: Military Expansion Will Tax Guam's Infrastructure: "The infrastructure and social services on Guam in the next five years will not meet the needs of the more than 8,000 Marines and their 9,000 dependents expected to relocate there, even as other U.S. military facilities on the Pacific island are expanding," reports The Post's Walter Pincus.

Federal Player of the Week: Godmother of the Transition: "This title was unofficially bestowed on [Gail] Lovelace by colleagues who watched her play a pivotal role during and after the 2008 presidential election to help ensure a smooth and orderly transition of power for the federal agencies, the outgoing Bush administration and the incoming Obama White House." Read her full profile here.

Discrimination Cases Pile Up: These are troubled times for the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission as these graphs show.

By Ed O'Keefe  | April 13, 2009; 7:08 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener  
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