In Fiscal Year 2011, the federal government spent $3.6 trillion and most would agree that taxpayers are entitled to know where that money went.
Unfortunately, government financial reporting systems fall short of a fundamental test: Revealing to taxpayers how federal agencies spend their money.
That’s not an issue at the Recovery Board. With the support of Congress and the administration, we’ve made sure that citizens know how their money is spent on Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans issued by federal agencies.
We developed a password-protected website, FederalReporting.gov, to collect spending data from more than 170,000 recipients of Recovery Act funds.
Each quarter, that information is passed along to Recovery.gov, the Recovery Board’s public website. Users can easily find information on contracts, grants and loans in their communities or across the nation.
We watch over the money using the Recovery Operations Center, a state-of-the-art analysis center, to try and make sure that the funds aren’t stolen or wasted.
In December, our job got bigger.
The President’s Government Accountability and Transparency Board, of which I am a member, issued a report containing far-reaching recommendations that would give average citizens easy access to spending data across the government.
The GAT Board, created by the President as a key element in his effort to rid government programs of waste, fraud and abuse, made these recommendations:
- A government-wide framework should be developed to detect fraud, waste and abuse in spending across federal programs. The GAT Board cited the success of the Recovery Operations Center.
- The numerous data collection and display systems throughout government should be integrated, a step that would “reduce or eliminate current system redundancies and achieve significant savings.’’
- A universal award identification system should be implemented for all federal awards. This would help reconcile spending data from multiple sources and improve oversight.
Administration officials would like to see follow-up action on the GAT Board’s recommendations—and so would the Recovery Board.
We are working diligently to develop a framework that will support the GAT Board’s findings.
For one thing, we are conducting pilot programs on fraud prevention tools with personnel from several agencies and the Inspector General community.
These pilots give the agencies and IGs access to the Recovery Operations Center, or ROC. This helps agencies perform their own risk evaluations before awarding federal contracts, grants or loans.
IGs, meanwhile, can use our analytical tools to prevent and detect fraud and waste. The ROC also fields special requests for analytical assistance from other law enforcement agencies that need our expertise.
Almost daily, moreover, we brief many folks across government on the operations of the ROC.
In the end, the way we see it, the analytical center could be used across government to protect taxpayer dollars.
On the issue of developing a single, integrated system for collecting and displaying all government data, we will be meeting with other federal agencies to assess how this might be done and what the costs would be.
Finally, on the issue of a universal award ID, which would permit much better oversight, we are working closely with a non-profit federally funded research organization on the best way to implement such a system. A final report from the organization is now being evaluated.
I will keep you posted on future developments.
– Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board
Here’s a stat you’ll probably not enjoy reading:
In the past fiscal year, the federal government estimates that it has made $115 billion in improper payments.
That’s billions, not millions.
First, to be clear: Not all improper payments represent fraud. Many result from government overpayments or other errors, according to a government website, www.paymentaccuracy.gov.
The high-error programs include Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security — vital support systems for millions of Americans.
Here at the Recovery Board, we have technology in our Recovery Operations Center that might be of service to other agencies seeking to prevent improper payments.
The ROC, as it is known, can be used for analysis at all stages of a contract award: Pre-award, at-award, post-award, and pre-payment.
Right now, we are using the ROC to identify irregularities or other problems in Recovery Act awards.
But the Board stands ready to assist other federal agencies in overseeing all of their spending. The Board recently began discussions with the Treasury Department, which is developing similar technology for identifying payments that should not be made.
We are also conducting pilot projects with several agencies and Inspectors General, permitting them to do risk assessments and analysis on Recovery awards.
Down the road, it’s possible we could play a major role across government if the proposed DATA Act is enacted by Congress.
The DATA Act would create a new agency known as the Federal Accountability and Spending Transparency Board. The FAST Board would absorb the Recovery Board’s functions and be given the responsibility to collect and display all government spending data for federal contracts, grants and loans.
I’ll be discussing improper payments, the DATA Act and other subjects when I testify on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, February 7, before the House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on government organization, efficiency and financial management.
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board
Inspector General Report
From: Department of Interior
Date: January 10, 2012
Re: Inspector General follows up on management of funding to Indian schools
Background: Interior Department officials recently checked to see if five recommendations that the agency’s Inspector General made in April 2010 had been implemented. The recommendations involved the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) management of Recovery funded programs for improving/repairing American Indian schools. BIA should:
- Obtain refunds of any advance payments to programs that later fail to adhere to specified terms.
- Ensure building repairs and improvements are funded enough to be fully completed and functional.
- Clarify the roles and responsibilities of those in charge of accountability and transparency of Recovery funds.
- Direct all tribes and contractors to post information about whistleblower protection on the project site.
- Consider using a secure, web-based project management system.
Findings: BIA had implemented all but the last recommendation, which BIA said would not be compatible with its firewall system; Interior officials concurred.
The following post was written by Kathleen S. Tighe, the Chair of the Recovery Board and the Inspector General for the Department of Education
Challenges keep you on your toes. In two decades in government, I’ve had plenty of them, serving in law enforcement-related positions at the Department of Justice, the General Services Administration, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Education.
Last month, President Obama handed me a new—and exciting—challenge: He selected me to serve as Chair of the Recovery Board, the independent agency that oversees the $840 billion economic stimulus program approved by Congress nearly three years ago. It’s a big job, something I know from personal experience as a member of the Recovery Board since April 2010.
The Recovery Act requires the Board to post detailed spending information on Recovery.gov and to provide oversight so that the funds aren’t wasted or stolen. In a nutshell, that means we need to be transparent and accountable to taxpayers.
I can assure you of my long commitment to government openness and accountability. I work for the taxpayers—not the other way around—and I wake up every morning feeling that I can make a difference. I felt that way the first day I walked into the Department of Justice in 1988 to begin serving as a trial attorney in the Fraud Section of the Commercial Litigation Branch. And I did make a difference, settling multi-million dollar cases that benefitted taxpayers.
My work as the Education IG should also give you a good idea of the way I think. From the time I first took that job 22 months ago, I have made it clear that no one—no individual, no company—is above scrutiny. Under my watch, the IG’s office has saved taxpayers millions of dollars by pursuing settlements and other actions against those who sought to defraud taxpayers.
The Recovery Board has a different oversight function. It does not conduct investigations. However, our analysts use sophisticated IT tools, housed in a facility known as the Recovery Operations Center, to pinpoint irregularities in Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans issued by federal agencies. The findings are sent to the IGs who oversee the 28 agencies that issue awards and serve as the basis for audits and investigations.
In its short history, the Board has been hailed for its commitment to accountability and transparency. Rest assured that those good government practices will be continued during my time as Chair.
Recovery Board’s Executive Director Discusses Continuing Efforts to Prevent Fraud and Abuse in Recovery Program
The following post was written by Michael Wood, the Executive Director of the Recovery Board
For nearly three years, the Recovery Board has focused on developing a program that will allow us to prevent fraud in the $840 billion stimulus program.
FastAlert, a new IT tool, is a case in point. It is designed to quickly identify irregularities in Recovery contracts, grants, and loans. Obviously, if we can pinpoint problems early on, valuable taxpayer dollars will be saved.
The system, not accessible to the public, is now being tested in pilot programs with a few federal agencies that distribute Recovery funds and Inspectors General responsible for preventing and detecting fraud, waste and abuse in the stimulus program.
At the heart of the system is FederalAccountability.gov, a password-protected website that the Board developed for use by federal IGs and agencies. This portal gives them access to the Board’s Recovery Operations Center (ROC), a state-of-the-art facility staffed by analysts who use sophisticated software and databases to search for indicators of fraud and waste.
Once logged into FederalAccountability.gov, government users can request information on Recovery recipients or those seeking funds. Information contained in the request is run through the ROC databases. If there are problems, such as criminal records, bankruptcies or past contract problems with the government, ROC analysts forward an alert immediately to the requesting agency or IG.
The Board is not telling agencies what to do. When we issue an alert, we are throwing up a caution flag—take care, we are saying, before handing out that contract. Bottom line: FastAlert can be used throughout the lifecycle of an award and will reduce fraud and improper payments, saving taxpayers money.
It’s our hope that, eventually, all agencies and IGs involved in federal spending programs will take advantage of our system. The best way to protect taxpayer dollars is to prevent them from ever being wasted or stolen. FastAlert is a big step toward reaching that goal.
You’ve notified the Recovery Board that you suspect fraud, waste and abuse involving a Recovery project. What happens to your complaint?
The Board’s fraud analysts review every complaint received. First, they try to determine if, in fact, Recovery funds are involved and, if so, which federal agency issued the award.
The analysts then focus on the company or companies involved, looking for information that may not have been apparent or available to government officials when the award was issued. Analysts also check whether any company has a criminal history or has ever been debarred from working with the government.
When all possible information has been gathered and analysts have determined the allegation is substantive, a report is sent to the Inspector General of the agency that issued the award; the Board will follow up with the IG until the complaint has been reviewed and/or the matter closed.
You may or may not be contacted by the Inspector General’s office. That might be due to the sheer volume of complaints received or because you provided all information needed. In either case, your complaint is treated seriously.
Mr. Levinson has headed the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) since September 8, 2004. HHS is among the largest departments in the federal government, encompassing Medicare, Medicaid, public health, medical research, food and drug safety, welfare, child and family services, disease prevention, Indian health, and mental health services. It also exercises leadership responsibilities in public health emergency preparedness and combating bio-terrorism.
As Inspector General, Mr. Levinson is the senior official responsible for audits, evaluations, investigations, and law enforcement efforts, relating to HHS programs and operations. He manages an independent and objective nationwide organization of over 1500 professional staff members dedicated to promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in HHS programs and addressing fraud, waste, and abuse.
In the wider government accountability community, Mr. Levinson serves on the Executive Council of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, where he chairs the Committee on Inspection and Evaluation. He previously served as Editor-in-Chief of The Journal of Public Inquiry. Earlier in his career, he was a Government Member of the Administrative Conference of the United States.
Mr. Levinson has devoted much of his career to government oversight. Prior to his appointment at HHS, he served for four years as Inspector General of the U. S. General Services Administration, where he oversaw the integrity of the federal civilian procurement process. He earlier served a seven-year term as Chairman of the U. S. Merit Systems Protection Board, where he oversaw the integrity of the federal civilian personnel system and adjudicated a wide range of personnel appeals pursuant to the Civil Service Reform Act. He is also a former General Counsel of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Mr. Levinson is a graduate of the University of Southern California, and holds law degrees from Georgetown and George Washington Universities. He is a member of the American Bar Association and the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.
Mary Kendall spent much of her career as an attorney for Federal law enforcement programs and as a State and Federal prosecutor. She joined the Federal workforce in 1986 as an attorney for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of General Counsel. In 1990, she transferred to its Office of Criminal Enforcement, where she served for 9 years. Ms. Kendall became Deputy Inspector General at the Department of the Interior in the fall of 1999. She played an instrumental role in transforming the Office of Inspector General into an innovative organization dedicated to detecting Departmental fraud, waste, and mismanagement. As Acting Inspector General, she has continued improving the way in which the OIG conducts business.
Gordon S. Heddell was sworn in as the Inspector General for the Department of Defense on July 14, 2009, one year after being appointed as Acting Inspector General. Prior to joining the DoD IG, Mr. Heddell had served as the Inspector General at the U.S. Department of Labor since January 2001.
Mr. Heddell began his Government service in 1966 as an Army Chief Warrant Officer, Helicopter Pilot, serving in both Korea and Taiwan during the Vietnam-era conflict.
Following his military tours of duty, Mr. Heddell served for 29 years in the U.S. Secret Service, where he held various law enforcement, management, and leadership positions. He began his career with the Secret Service as a Special Agent, progressing to Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge in 1982. Between 1982 and 1985, he served as Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge in the Office of Administration, where he managed the day-to-day administrative operations of the Secret Service, nationwide.
Mr. Heddell then served for two years as Assistant to the Special Agent-in-Charge in the Washington field office where he directed investigations of threats made against the President, Vice President, and other high-ranking government officials in Washington, D.C. Between 1987 and 1989, he served as Assistant Special Agent-in-Charge in the Philadelphia field office, where he supervised complex criminal investigations relating to counterfeiting and various types of financial fraud.
From 1989 to 1991, Mr. Heddell served as Deputy Assistant Director, where he managed inspections of offices, as well as internal investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by employees, worldwide. He also served, in this capacity, for two years in the Office of Training, where he was the executive responsible for the development and execution of training programs provided to the Secret Service’s 4,800 employees.
Mr. Heddell assumed an executive position in the Vice Presidential Protective Division in 1993, as Deputy Special Agent-in-Charge. In 1995, he was promoted to Special Agent-in-Charge and served in that position until 1998. During his tenure in this division, he directed the physical protection of the Vice President and the security of the Vice President’s residence.
From 1998 until December 2000, Mr. Heddell served as Assistant Director. In this executive position, he led the Secret Service’s Inspection and Internal Affairs programs, worldwide.
In addition to dozens of outstanding performance ratings and numerous letters of commendation, Mr. Heddell was the recipient in 1997 of the prestigious Meritorious Presidential Rank Award for outstanding government service.
Mr. Heddell holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science from the University of Missouri, a Master of Arts degree in Legal Studies from the University of Illinois [formerly Sangamon State University], and was a Woodrow Wilson Public Service Fellow while at the Secret Service. He is a member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and was the creator of the Secret Service’s mentoring program at two D.C. public schools.
In November, 2004, following his nomination by President George W. Bush, the United States Senate confirmed J. Russell George as the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration. Prior to assuming this role, Mr. George served as the Inspector General of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
A native of New York City, where he attended public schools, including Brooklyn Technical High School, Mr. George received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Howard University in Washington, DC, and his Doctorate of Jurisprudence from Harvard University’s School of Law in Cambridge, MA. After receiving his law degree, he returned to New York and served as a prosecutor in the Queens County District Attorney’s Office.
Mr. George joined the Counsel’s Office in the White House Office of Management and Budget where he was Assistant General Counsel. In that capacity, he provided legal guidance on issues concerning presidential and executive branch authority. He was next invited to join the White House Staff as the Associate Director for Policy in the Office of National Service. It was there that he implemented the legislation establishing the Commission for National and Community Service, the precursor to the Corporation for National and Community Service. He then returned to New York and practiced law at Kramer, Levin, Naftalis, Nessen, Kamin & Frankel.
In 1995, Mr. George returned to Washington and joined the staff of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight and served as the Staff Director and Chief Counsel of the Government Management, Information and Technology subcommittee (later renamed the Subcommittee on Government Efficiency, Financial Management and Intergovernmental Relations), chaired by Representative Stephen Horn. There he directed a staff that conducted over 200 hearings on legislative and oversight issues pertaining to Federal Government management practices, including procurement policies, the disposition of government-controlled information, the performance of chief financial officers and inspectors general, and the Government’s use of technology. He continued in that position until his appointment by President Bush in 2002.
We will be posting the bios of the other 12 Board members on an occasional basis.