The Campaign Spot

Under Stimulus, Some Government Programs Getting 57 Times Previous Budget Level

The Washington Post headline is, “Government Gets Chance To Prove It Can Work.”

Reading it, one can’t help but suspect that the story of this tsunami of new funding is not going to end well:

Processing the rush of money is complicated by requirements unique to the stimulus act. The Department of Housing and Urban Development is getting $1.5 billion for “homelessness prevention,” a task in which it has never explicitly engaged.

The National Endowment for the Arts is receiving $50 million in stimulus money but must use a criterion it does not prioritize in giving out its $122 million in annual funding: whether a particular grant is likely to preserve jobs. That means assessing the financial health of arts organizations to determine which might really cut back without a grant.

“We’ve got a complex job to do, and we’re working against the clock,” said the endowment’s interim chief, Patrice Walker Powell.

Complicating matters further is the leadership vacuum at many agencies, where many top political appointees have yet to be confirmed. Agencies must rely on career officials who are experienced but may not have gotten much training or support over the years . . .

For state and local workers, the challenge may be less related to morale than to the risk of being overwhelmed. The Maryland Energy Administration gets $1 million a year from the federal government to improve energy efficiency. The stimulus act is providing 57 times that amount — on top of the $65 million the state is getting to weatherize individual homes. The state energy director, Malcolm Woolf, said the agency will put part of the money into an interest-free revolving loan program for energy-efficiency projects at state buildings, retrofit big apartment buildings, and expand grants for home-based solar or geothermal systems.

If your organization suddenly found its budget expanded by a factor of 57, how well would your organization handle that influx? Every cent would be accounted for and well-prioritized, right?

The plan is for federal, state, and local governments to spend the money quickly and wisely. I strongly suspect that they can pick one or the other.

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