After nearly two years of renovation and rehabilitation, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool reopened at the end of August.
Popular among the approximately 25 million people who visit the National Mall each year, the Reflecting Pool has also been the site of historic events, perhaps most notably involving civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech while overlooking the Reflecting Pool in 1963. And the famed contralto Marian Anderson, barred from singing at Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was African-American, held a widely attended outdoor concert on Easter Sunday that year by the Reflecting Pool.
Built in the 1920s, the pool had begun to crack and leak – at one point losing as many as 500,000 gallons of water a week. Lacking a circulation system, the 6.75-million-gallon pool also required draining, cleaning, and refilling twice every year.
The Department of the Interior (DOI) used $34 million of Recovery funding to repair and upgrade the Reflecting Pool and also install a circulation system. DOI officials note that the 580 granite stones that had been originally placed along the edges of the pool in the 1920s were catalogued and put back into place.
The Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB) recently welcomed three new members, including a new chairman:
Richard Ginman – New GATB chairman and Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (DPAP), U.S. Department of Defense. Mr. Ginman has served in numerous defense-related positions, including as Principal Deputy Director of DPAP from 2008 to 2011 and as Deputy Director of four DPAP directorates from 2006 to 2011. Mr. Ginman retired from the U.S. Navy as a Rear Admiral in 2000 after a distinguished 30-year career.
Nani Coloretti – Acting Assistant Secretary for Management and also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget, Department of the Treasury. Ms. Coloretti joined the Treasury Department in September 2009, and she most recently helped stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as its first Acting Chief Operating Officer.
Gregory Friedman – Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy. In addition to his oversight duties at DOE, Mr. Friedman has been a member of the Recovery Board since its inception in 2009.
The GATB was established by Executive Order in June 2011 to identify guidelines for integrating systems that support the collection and display of government spending data, ensuring the reliability of that data, and broadening the deployment of fraud detection technologies, including those proven successful under the Recovery Act.
Calvin L. Scovel III, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), supervises a 400-plus staff that works to support the agency’s priorities of transportation safety and effective program delivery and performance.
Mr. Scovel joined DOT after 29 years of active service in the U.S. Marine Corps, from which he retired as a Brigadier General. His last military assignment was as a senior judge on the U.S. Navy-Marine Corps Court of Criminal Appeals. He previously served as Assistant Judge Advocate General of the Navy for Military Justice, the principal advisor to the Secretary of the Navy and the Judge Advocate General on all criminal justice policy matters. As prosecutor, defense counsel, or judge in 250 courts-martial, Mr. Scovel dealt with charges of murder, rape, child sexual assault, and drug trafficking.
During his time with the 4th Marine Expeditionary Brigade, which included all Marine amphibious forces in Operation Desert Storm and later in a NATO exercise above the Arctic Circle in Norway, Mr. Scovel served as senior legal advisor.
Mr. Scovel was in the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. His military awards include the Legion of Merit (four awards) and Combat Action Ribbon.
He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and his juris doctor degree from Duke University School of Law. He also received a master’s degree from the Naval War College. Mr. Scovel is married and has two sons.
In its short history, the economic stimulus program has been critiqued by Congress, the Government Accountability Office, and various watchdog groups. Now, an independent team of researchers from Harvard University has produced an assessment of the Recovery Act’s impact on government transparency. The lengthy report, done for the IBM Center for the Business of Government, contains both good and bad news for those involved in overseeing the Recovery program, including the Recovery Board.
The study is the work of Francisca M. Rojas, the research director at Harvard University’s Transparency Policy Project. The Recovery program requires recipients of $276 billion in contracts, grants, and loans to submit spending reports that are posted publicly on Recovery.gov. Rojas and her team examined that transparency effort “to understand what the disclosure of spending data accomplished, who used the available information, and how it was used.’’ The team focused on the Recovery Act’s transparency requirements at the state level, specifically Maryland, Massachusetts, Colorado, Mississippi, Texas, and Washington.
“Overall, the most significant effect of Recovery Act spending transparency,’’ the Rojas team wrote, “was an improved capacity by state officials to manage the disbursement of federal funds.’’ The team found, among other conclusions:
- State compliance with federal spending disclosures requirements was very high. States exceeded the law’s transparency requirements in building comprehensive websites to post data.
- Transparency requirements served as a deterrent, contributing to low rates of fraud, waste, and abuse of taxpayer funds.
- The quality and timeliness of transparency data improved over time.
- Spending transparency became institutionalized in some states and at the federal level. Congress and the White House both have proposed Recovery-style transparency to track spending for all federal contracts, grants, and loans.
Rojas’ team, however, pointed to one big problem—identifying how many jobs have been actually created or saved under the Recovery program. “…The rate of spending turned out to be more straightforward than tracking the number of jobs created or saved,’’ the report says. “Job metrics attributable to Recovery Act funds had to be created without the benefit of precedent—always problematic in new transparency systems.’’
The report said the initial methods used by the Office of Management and Budget to estimate jobs “made it difficult to accurately capture employment impact…’’ Early in the program, the report says, OMB changed those procedures so that jobs were estimated only on a quarterly basis, meaning that “Recovery Act-funded jobs could not be aggregated across quarters due to the risk of double counting.’’
The conclusion: “Even though employment outcomes were critical to gauging the ongoing impacts of the Recovery Act, doing so through the disclosure system was almost doomed to fail because of the complexity of measuring these effects.’’
The Recovery Board did not escape criticism. The reports notes that the issue of data quality became “a significant controversy’’ during the first reporting period after some recipients entered non-existent or otherwise wrong congressional districts in their reports. The “phantom’’ congressional district controversy became a big headache for the Board, which had posted the incorrect information from recipients on Recovery.gov. We later corrected the situation, but the Rojas team’s report says the damage was done: “This early experience with reporting errors compromised the credibility of the data,’’ the report concludes. “Unreliable data initially frustrated journalists and advocates trying to understand the impacts of Recovery Act spending.’’
Still, the report leaves no doubt that transparency in government spending was greatly improved by the Recovery program. Bottom line: “Federal transparency requirements created a ripple effect of voluntary transparency efforts….All states and many state agencies created their own websites for spending disclosure. Journalists and advocacy groups built multiple online outlets to make it easier for the public to access spending information. Further, rates of fraud, waste, and abuse of Recovery Act funds were reported to be lower than expected for federal programs.’’
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board
As Inspector General (IG) for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), a position she has held since December 2002, Phyllis K. Fong is the senior oversight official for one of the largest and most diverse departments in the federal government. USDA’s mission includes the management of traditional farm programs, private lands conservation, domestic food assistance, agriculture research and education, agricultural marketing, international trade, meat and poultry inspection, forestry, and rural development programs.
Ms. Fong is responsible for audits, evaluations, investigations, and law enforcement efforts, relating to USDA’s programs and operations. Her office provides leadership in promoting economy, efficiency, and effectiveness in USDA programs and addressing fraud, waste, and abuse.
Ms. Fong was recently elected as the first Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency (CIGIE), which was established by the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. CIGIE’s members include 67 federal Inspectors General, and the organization’s mission is to promote economy and effectiveness in federal programs through coordinated government-wide activities.
Prior to her appointment at USDA, Ms. Fong served as the Inspector General of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) from April 1999 until December 2002. A career member of the Senior Executive Service, she had also held several positions at SBA OIG, including Assistant Inspector General for Management and Legal Counsel (1994-1999) and Assistant Inspector General for Management and Policy (1988-1994). She also served as Assistant General Counsel for the Legal Services Corporation (1981-1983) and as an attorney with the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1978-1981).
Ms. Fong was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She graduated from Pomona College with a B.A. degree in Asian studies and earned her J.D. degree from Vanderbilt University School of Law. Ms. Fong is a member of the Tennessee and District of Columbia bars. She and her husband, Paul Tellier, have two children.
There’s a lot of talk these days about “thought leaders,” individuals or organizations that produce and act on innovative ideas. Indeed, one could argue quite convincingly that the Recovery Board has more than its share of thought leaders. Since its inception, the Board has been results-driven.
Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 in February of that year. The new Recovery Board, consisting of Inspectors General from various federal agencies, was directed to establish and maintain a public website that would provide “detailed information’’ on contracts, grants, and loans issued under the Recovery Act. The law also directed the Board to maintain a vigilant oversight program that would “prevent fraud, waste, and abuse.’’
The job was daunting, and senior Board officials were literally racing against the clock. The Office of Management and Budget, which writes the guidelines for the Recovery program, required that recipients begin reporting spending data on October 1, 2009. That didn’t allow for a lot of time to build the infrastructure necessary to collect and display data from more than 100,000 recipients of Recovery funds and to develop a tough oversight program.
What to do? The Board and senior officials—including then Chairman Earl E. Devaney, myself, and a handful of staff members—decided we needed an innovative plan or we would face the unpleasant consequences of failure: Condemnation from official Washington, the public, and the news media.
For starters, we cut through government red tape. We assembled an agile IT team from other agencies, we expedited contracting, and we established firm deadlines for the task ahead. This was the task: (1) assemble a website to collect quarterly spending data from recipients of Recovery contracts, grants, and loans; (2) manage the public website, Recovery.gov, created by the General Services Administration before the Board was up and running, while developing a second version that could handle massive amounts of recipient data; and (3) create a robust oversight program that would prevent criminals from stealing Recovery funds.
Not everything went smoothly but in the end we accomplished the task in what for government amounted to light speed. A summary:
- FederalReporting.gov, activated in August 2009, was unique in government. As a rule, federal agencies that issue awards collect data from their respective recipients. FederalReporting.gov became the first government website to collect data on all agency awards in a single system. This was no small accomplishment: 28 federal agencies distribute funds under the Recovery program. The Board has overseen 12 recipient reporting periods without any major blunders.
- FederalReporting.gov transfers its data to Recovery.gov. The new version of Recovery.gov was launched on September 28, 2009, and provides real transparency to users. There’s easy access to quarterly spending data. Information is displayed through interactive, searchable maps; data downloads and tables, charts and graphs; videos; feature stories; and Social Media. Users can find information about Recovery programs in their own states and communities. There’s also information on federal Recovery programs and oversight activities, including audits and reviews conducted by agency Inspectors General and the Government Accountability Office.
- The state-of-the-art Recovery Operations Center, launched in November 2009, is the centerpiece of the Board’s oversight program. As it evolved, the ROC became a focused, intelligence-sharing center for the oversight community, particularly those Inspectors General who monitor the Recovery program. In tracking fraud, waste, and abuse, ROC analysts have turned up significant investigative leads for the IG community. Meanwhile, several IG offices have been given access to ROC tools so they can conduct research from their own workstations.
Looking back, it’s apparent our work transformed the way the government tracks spending on contracts, grants, and loans. We focused the discussion on what it truly means to provide transparency and accountability in a government program. A lot of public officials talk about how they favor transparency and accountability and how they are going to change this and that. But results matter, not talk, as the Board has demonstrated.
Chairman Devaney, his work done, retired last December but we didn’t miss a beat. His successor, Kathleen Tighe, seamlessly picked up the baton and began directing us on our remaining challenges. Under her leadership, the Board is promoting the idea of a universal award ID for all government contracts, grants, and loans. A uniform ID would enhance transparency, making it much easier to track and reconcile funds awarded to recipients of federal funds.
We are also preparing to launch a pilot project later this year to determine the viability of a single electronic data collection system for government grants. A select group of recipients will participate. The Grants Reporting Informational Project will require recipients to report only one time on their grants, eliminating the burdensome requirement of filing separate reports with each agency involved in the grants.
The Board is continuing to improve Recovery.gov, which serves as the principal Recovery contact for taxpayers. Most recently, we added a new feature that allows access to summary data on each federal agency that distributes Recovery funds. The feature highlights how much money an agency has distributed to recipients along with information on the top recipients in states and cities.
Under the Recovery Act, the Board is scheduled to expire on September 30, 2013. But there’s plenty of work to do, and we will continue to advance ideas that promote transparency and accountability in government.
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board
Gregory H. Friedman, a member of the Recovery Board since its inception in 2009, has been Inspector General (IG) of the Department of Energy since his U.S. Senate confirmation in 1998. As IG, he is responsible for a nationwide, independent program of audits, inspections, and law enforcement efforts related to the department’s programs and operations, including its over $130 billion in assets and 107,000 federal and contractor personnel.
Mr. Friedman received a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Temple University and a master’s degree in business administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. In 1979-1980, Mr. Friedman was selected as a Princeton Fellow in Public Affairs and spent a year in residence at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School for Public and International Studies.
In 2002, Mr. Friedman was named by the Comptroller General of the United States to serve as a member of the Advisory Council on Government Auditing Standards. From 2005 to 2008, Mr. Friedman served as Vice Chair of the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency, then the parent organization of the 11,000 member federal Inspector General community. In addition, he led the development of the Federal Audit Manual, for the first time providing universal guidelines for conducting federal financial audits.
During his federal career, which began in 1968, Mr. Friedman has received numerous awards, including the Department of Energy’s Meritorious Service Award, the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award, and the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Executive.
The new list is out on Recovery Act recipients that failed to file quarterly spending reports as required by law and it’s a bit surprising.
Nearly 46 percent of the Recovery scofflaws, it turns out, received grants from the Department of Justice, the nation’s principal law enforcement agency. For the most recent quarter, 303 reports were listed on the Recovery Board’s Wall of Shame, our nickname for the list of non-compliers compiled on Recovery.gov. Of those, 139 involve grants issued by the Justice Department to cities, counties, police departments, sheriff’s offices and others.
Some of these law enforcement agencies received grants under the federal COPS program, which promotes community policing in state, local, territory and tribal law enforcement agencies. The reasons for non-compliance varied, according to the Justice Department. Some recipients said they did not have the personnel available to fill out reports and submit them to the Recovery Board. Others experienced technical difficulties, and some simply said their failure was unintentional.
Big and small law enforcement agencies failed to report, including the City of Pittsburgh’s police department. It blamed technical problems and failed to submit reports for the last two quarters on its use of a $144,000 COPS grant.
There was some good news, however: Fewer and fewer recipients of Recovery Act funds want to be featured on the Wall of Shame. For the quarter ending March 31, recipients submitted 138,814 spending reports to the Board. Of the 303 reports not filed—the lowest number in the history of the program—most were one-time offenders. The missing reports involve nearly $1.2 billion in Recovery awards.
Here’s a glimpse at some recipients that failed to report to various agencies:
- The City of Richmond, CA, failed to report in three consecutive quarters on its use of a $4.3 million grant from the Department of Homeland Security. Its explanation, according to DHS: “None given.’’
- Stephentown Regulation Services LLC, Stephentown, NY, did not submit a report for two quarters on a $43.1 million loan guarantee from the Department of Energy. The reason, according to DOE: “Recipient declared bankruptcy.’’
- The office of the Arizona Attorney General did not submit a report on a $2.9 million grant from the Justice Department. The recipient said its failure was unintentional.
- The City of Fairfield, CA, failed to report on $4 million in grants from the Federal Transit Administration. The FTA said it will suspend the grant payments if the city does not submit a report in the next quarter.
- The Milwaukee County Transit System said it forgot to submit a report on its use of a $25,682,975, grant, according to the FTA, which plans to suspend the grant payments if the transit system fails to file a report in the next quarter.
- Northrop Grumman Systems Corporation failed to submit a report on a $3.1 million contract issued by the Social Security Administration. The SSA said that “the individual [in Northrop Grumman] responsible for reporting on behalf of the recipient indicated he forgot the due date for the report.”
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board
This is a story about a small amount of money but it’s one that illustrates why government works best when people pull together.
This past February, the hotline at the Office of Inspector General, Department of Education, received a complaint about the overpayment of Recovery Act funds to eight special education employees from a school district in the state of Washington. The complainant said that the school district discovered the overpayments and directed the employees to pay back the funds. The problem: The repayments were credited to the district’s general fund, not to the Recovery program.
Once alerted by the Education IG’s office, agency officials moved quickly to correct the situation. They notified Washington state education officials whose staff then conducted an on-site review of the district’s books. As it turned out, the hotline complainant was right on the money. In June, the district acknowledged an over claim from Recovery funds of a little more than $20,000. State and district officials agreed to remit the funds to the federal Education Department.
A little story, to be sure, but one that shows the government’s Recovery oversight program is working well. A hotline complaint was filed, federal education officials took swift action, and local and state officials helped solve the problem. Taxpayers benefit when government agencies at all levels work together. It’s that simple.
– Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board, and Inspector General, Department of Education
Any large government program can be confusing and difficult to understand. The $840 billion Recovery program is no exception, and that’s why the Recovery Board is continually finding ways to make it easier to understand information posted on Recovery.gov.
Federal agencies — 28 of them — distribute funds under the Recovery program. How much money has a specific agency distributed to recipients? How much has an agency paid out for contracts, grants, and loans? How much for entitlements? Today (July 2), the Recovery Board is unveiling a new page that will give users of Recovery.gov easy answers to those questions, along with other information.
These agency summaries will be available by simply clicking on the “Where is the Money Going?’’ line atop any Recovery.gov page. Then click on “Agency Data” and go to “Agency Profiles.” Here’s what you’ll find, based on reports submitted to the Recovery Board by individual agencies or recipients of Recovery funds:
- The total amount awarded by an agency along with an up-to-date total of funds actually paid out to recipients.
- A breakdown of funding for contracts, grants and loans by categories, including education, transportation, housing and health.
- The amount of entitlements paid out in similar categories.
- The number of awards reported by recipients.
- The number of projects yet to get under way along with the number completed.
- The estimated jobs funded in each quarter.
- The states, cities, and recipients receiving the most funds.
We think this new page will enlighten you about the Recovery program and we would like to hear from you.
– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board