The Corner

‘Tracking Stimulus Spending May Not Be as Easy as Promised’

That’s the strange realization made by the Washington Post this morning.

“To build support for the stimulus package, President Obama vowed unprecedented transparency, a big part of which, he said, would be allowing taxpayers to track money to the street level on Recovery.gov. Together with a spruced-up WhiteHouse.gov, the site would inject the stodgy federal bureaucracy with the same Webby accessibility and Facebook-generation flair that defined the Obama campaign.

But three months after the bill was signed, Recovery.gov offers little beyond news releases, general breakdowns of spending, and acronym-laden spreadsheets and timelines. And congressional Democrats, state officials and advocates of open government worry that the White House cannot come close to clearing the high bar it set.”

Interestingly, the problems of tracking stimulus funds are very similar to the problems state officials faced when they started receiving homeland-security grants. Will Carless over at the Voice of San Diego has a very good article where he draws the parallel between homeland-security funds and stimulus funds:

But while San Diego and other local governments spent the federal money, the state scrambled to keep track of where all the cash was going. As California’s spending on homeland security ballooned from a few million in 2000 to more than $500 million in 2003, the state’s effort to account for all the money became akin to “trying to build a bicycle while you’re riding it,” according to one senior state official.

It took the state more than five years to get around to checking on San Diego’s spending of the federal grants, according to state and county audits. Those documents reveal that for the first few years the federal money poured into San Diego, few formal procedures existed to track whether the money was actually being spent on the purpose for which Congress made it available: Making San Diegans safer.

When the federal government did its own checking, it found that, as a result of the state of California’s poor monitoring of the homeland security money, local governments had been allowed to misspend millions of dollars. California was also unable to adequately measure whether the vast amounts of money actually helped to protect the state’s citizens, a federal audit concluded.

Now, the federal government plans to send California more than $80 billion — an amount that makes the state’s homeland security spending look puny — via the stimulus package.

Read the whole thing here.

Veronique de Rugy is a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

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