Implementing the Recovery Act: A Teaching Moment
You can’t task 28 federal agencies with distributing $840 billion in record time to stimulate the worst economy since the Great Depression and not learn a few things. Significant things, in fact, and they’re chronicled in a new Recovery Board report, “Lessons Learned from the Recovery Act.”
Agencies had just over 18 months to award and disburse nearly all of their Recovery funds – unprecedented, for a program of such massive size and scope. And to great extent the agencies succeeded.
With the Recovery Act drawing to a close this year, the Board wanted to document the lessons learned by agencies and Offices of Inspectors General (OIGs) during their implementation and oversight of the stimulus program. On behalf of the Board, the Department of Interior OIG led a review to identify specific actions, mechanisms, and processes that were effective in implementation and administration of the Recovery Act, as well as those that posed challenges.
DOI OIG compiled and analyzed data from 16 OIGs on what they and their agencies experienced while implementing the Recovery Act. Then, a small working group of representatives from DOI OIG, the Department of Education OIG, Department of Agriculture OIG, and the Board conducted follow-up interviews with six select agencies.
Findings, in brief:
- Agencies credited their use of special governance structures, including designated steering committees and workgroups, as contributing to the effective administration of the Recovery Act.
- While maintaining their independent status, OIGs worked closely with their agencies throughout implementation to prevent inefficiencies, ensure compliance, and increase fraud awareness.
- Agencies conducted extensive outreach to recipients to inform them of Recovery Act funding opportunities and help them during the reporting process. In addition, OIGs and the Board engaged in numerous fraud awareness and prevention activities, reaching tens of thousands of contractors, grantees, and government personnel.
- In response to the Recovery Act’s accelerated timeframes, agencies and OIGs employed a variety of new business practices or altered existing ones to meet obligation deadlines and ensure timely and effective oversight.
The main challenges all resulted from the Recovery Act’s mandate to execute such a large program in so little time.
- Myriad requirements surrounding implementation and reporting created a significant learning curve for recipients, agencies, and OIGs alike. Agencies and OIGs found it challenging to keep up with the evolving nature of early Office of Management and Budget guidance, and with the frequency and level of detail required for recipient and agency reporting.
- The Recovery Act created a dramatic spike in agency workloads. Agencies and OIGs hired new employees and used a number of techniques to increase staffing flexibilities—a task that was easier for agencies that were able to use administrative funds to help with implementation efforts.
- Even while recognizing the accelerated timeframe was a primary purpose of the Recovery Act, agencies were still challenged by the time constraints to sufficiently plan for implementation, including increasing staff capacity and developing improved oversight, monitoring, program guidance and performance measures specific to the goals of the Act.
Everyone involved in compiling the report hopes that the lessons agencies and OIGs learned during the Recovery Act can be applied to the planning, implementation, and oversight of future government programs.
- Mary L. Kendall, Deputy Inspector General, Department of Interior