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Unemployed Journalists Key to Stimulus Oversight?

By Ed O'Keefe
Claire McCaskill
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) (Photo by Post)

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 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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By Ed O'Keefe  | April 2, 2009; 3:35 PM ET
Categories:  Congress, Oversight  
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A challenge facing OMB is to determine how best to reconcile the demands of two transparency sections of the Recovery Act that have no relation to one another and read as if they were written by two different hands. Section 1512 spells out grant/loan/contract recipient requirements for quarterly reporting to the funding agency and the funding agency requirement to webpost those reports. Section 1526 mandates the Recovery Board to host and provide access to awards information collected under a previous law, but does not mention integrating any unique data (e.g., jobs created and retained) collected via the reports mandated Section 1512.

Posted by: areamer | April 2, 2009 4:39 PM | Report abuse

What Devaney needs to do is visit www.recovery.ORG --- that site is actually tracking the entire stimulus spend and can tell the government and its citizens where every dime is going.
We can't afford to wait - while billions of dollars are spent - to figure out how to track the money.
OMB should do it today - and they CAN.

Posted by: JoeBagadonuts | April 2, 2009 5:00 PM | Report abuse

So mainstream media members go from DNC water carriers to....DNC water carriers. That is good.

Posted by: ikez78 | April 3, 2009 6:34 PM | Report abuse

I sure hope that particular piece of non-sensical partisan perjorative goes away soon; "mainstream media" is stale and old and never really had any meaning in the first place.

It was a just a simple-minded partisan way of saying "the other team".

America needs to get out of the "team sports" mode of politics and start thinking as Americans first and Dem-Rep second.

The most important word in that sentence is "THINKing".
Partisanship is for lazy minds.

Posted by: lquarton | April 4, 2009 3:26 AM | Report abuse

This is a total waste of taxpayer money. Why pay unemployed journalists to write government propaganda when the ones still employed are doing it for free?

Posted by: rhahn1 | April 4, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

The Congress is responsibile for the Billions of losses at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, How do we believe they will now be able to prevent the Billions in Stimulus from arriving in the same pockets? The political pay backs in this Stimulus Package are outrageous. We have sweetheart mortgage deals, earmarks, stimulus, campaign financing, unpaid income taxes, congressional aides bonuses. Oversight means overlooked.

Posted by: weidenhof4 | April 4, 2009 3:37 PM | Report abuse

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