Unemployed Journalists Key to Stimulus Oversight?
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) suggested today that the team tasked with overseeing distribution of economic stimulus funds should consider hiring recently laid-off journalists to help craft the tone and message of the government's Recovery.gov Web site. The senator spoke as Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and Robert L. Nabors, deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget appeared before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and told lawmakers that the government has doled out at least $51 billion in stimulus funding.
McCaskill's comments came as she expressed concern with written weekly updates on the new government Web site.
"They don’t feel like they’re being written so people can look at it and really understand what’s happening. I don’t think they’re useful to most people," she said, later suggesting Devaney consider hiring recently displaced journalists to help explain the complexities of the economic recovery efforts in easy-to-understand language.
“They understand how to write a lead, they understand how to keep it concise, they understand how they make it interesting. And I would urge you to look for the qualified journalists."
"Senator, tomorrow morning I’m interviewing two journalists," for potential jobs with his team, Devaney said.
The former Interior Department inspector general also reiterated his warnings that some level of waste, fraud or mismanagement is inevitable with the distribution of such a large amount of money.
"With that kind of money, the bad guys are going to come," he said.
But Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) urged him to closely control potential losses.
"Even if it’s a 1 percent loss, you’re talking about a huge amount of money. That’s why I think that it’s really important to enlist citizens in reporting and to make sure that you have the resources to follow up on those tips."
Devaney agreed: "The transparency that’s going to be in this arena has never before been in place so I’m excited about the opportunity to have a force multiplier. To have citizens telling us about things we probably wouldn’t discover if they weren’t calling in or e-mailing in. I think we have a good shot of lowering it to as low a percentage as you can."
Nabors told senators that the departments of Education, HUD, HHS, Labor and Transportation have started distributing stimulus funding and the Obama administration expects 70 percent of stimulus funds will be spent by the end of fiscal year 2010.
Collins pressed Nabors on how the administration plans to count jobs created or saved by the recovery efforts. She cited a construction project in her home state of Maine paid for with stimulus funding that will soon temporarily employ construction workers. Some of those workers may later move on to jobs with other stimulus-funded projects.
"So how are they counted? Are they counted twice...? ... Are they not counted at all because they’re temporary projects?"
"You put your finger on the exact issue which is sort of confounding us in making sure we have a standard way of reporting that," Nabors said. "In the very near future, OMB is going to put out specific guidance on how to calculate the job numbers."
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