Recovery Blog

Photo of the Week – Boston Dorchester Avenue Project

Posted in Photo of the Week by Recovery.gov on March 20, 2012

Photo contributed to the Recovery.gov Flickr Group by MassDOT

The Boston Dorchester Avenue $15.6 million project funded by federal stimulus ARRA funds will improve safety and mobility at four major intersections- Andrews Square, Glover’s Corner, Fields Corner and Peabody Square.

To see more photos of Recovery projects or add your own photos, visit the Recovery.gov Flickr Group.

Back to Basics

Posted in Accountability, Recovery Act by Recovery.gov on March 15, 2012

What federal agencies distribute Recovery money? What agencies review Recovery spending to ensure that funds aren’t misused? Every day, it seems, the Recovery Board’s communications department receives calls from news reporters and members of the public asking those fundamental questions and others.

Despite our best efforts to keep all informed, a brief tutorial about agency responsibilities under the Recovery Act, known formally as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, might help.

The essentials of the three-year-old program are these:

  • The White House Office of Management and Budget writes the guidelines for the program, including issues relating to spending and jobs data reported by recipients of Recovery funds.
  • Federal agencies, 28 of them, distribute funds for contracts, grants and loans to recipients. Some agencies also provide tax credits and entitlements.
  • The Recovery Board, consisting of Inspectors General from 12 federal agencies, collects spending and jobs data from recipients of Recovery contracts, grants and loans. The information is posted each quarter on Recovery.gov. The Board also combines a sophisticated analysis center and the work of analysts to assist the IG community in preventing and detecting waste, fraud and abuse.

That’s pretty much it — and, no, the Board is not TARP, otherwise known as the Troubled Asset Relief Program. We are frequently confused with TARP, another government program established to address the economic crisis.

- Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board 

The Big City Take on Federal Spending

Posted in From the Recovery Board Chair by Recovery.gov on March 12, 2012

New Yorkers aren’t known for sitting around and waiting for things to happen.

So, in November 2009, feeling more feedback was needed from Washington on the new Recovery program, New York City’s Chief Recovery Officer began contacting other major cities to get a sense of what they were experiencing.  They had pretty much the same complaints about poor communication, says Michelle Light, the NYC Recovery Chief.

From those initial contacts was born the ARRA Big City Network, which includes almost two dozen cities that have received funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, otherwise known as ARRA. The cities include Atlanta, Boston, Jacksonville, FL, Milwaukee, Portland, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Phoenix.

“We were filling a void. In the early stages of the program, it wasn’t clear to us what the Recovery Board was responsible for, what OMB [the Office of Management and Budget] was responsible for, and what the White House was responsible for,’’ says Ms. Light. “We mobilized so we could get better feedback.’’

That dedication paid dividends, as is quite clear from a survey of its members completed late last year by the ARRA Big City Network. The survey showed that feedback from Washington had improved dramatically during the three-year history of the program.  According to the survey, 66 percent of the respondents said that federal agencies had “often’’ communicated with them. Another 23.29 per cent described that communication as “sometimes.’’

The ARRA Big City Network’s survey was aimed at providing insights to the Government Accountability and Transparency Board. The so-called GAT Board, of which I am a member, was created last year by President Obama to improve transparency and accountability in federal spending. The Board issued its report to the President in December.

At a fundamental level, the cities were describing the lessons they had learned from participating in the $840 billion Recovery program.  New York City, for instance, has plenty of experience to draw on — the city has received direct Recovery funding of about $7 billion.

Describing their experience submitting spending reports under the Recovery program, nearly 62 percent of the respondents thought the system brought about “greater transparency.’’ Some 40 percent thought the reporting system led to “more accountability in the way funds are spent.’’

Half of the respondents thought the program guidance from Washington was “vague or conflicting,’’ while nearly half believed that reporting required “duplicative paperwork.’’

Looking to the future, respondents were asked about how often reports should be filed if a reporting system similar to the Recovery program were implemented for all government spending. The answer: 75 percent believed the reports should be submitted quarterly — the same as ARRA reporting.

However, even with quarterly reporting, says Ms. Light, “there’s always a level of stress.’’ She says that Congress, in creating the Recovery program, insisted on recipients submitting reports within 10 days of the end of a calendar quarter — “a crushing timeframe.’’ She argues that for future spending submissions, it would better to give recipients a month to submit their reports. “It’s not easy,’’ she says, “to pull all of this together when you have some of our agencies with 40 to 50 local partners and vendors.’’

Respondents, 68 percent of them, also thought it was important to “standardize and consolidate reporting documents’’ to avoid excessive and redundant paperwork. “The redundancy piece was something that recipients really struggled with,’’ Ms. Light says.  Cities, she said, would fill out a Recovery spending report, then would be required to submit the same information to the agency that funded the project.​​​

“Part of our hope and intention with the survey is to be able to show we are willing partners in the process and totally understand the importance of accountability and transparency,’’ she says. “We need to have a continual dialogue with the federal government, which also needs to keep in mind the costs and burdens involved in the reporting process.’’

                                 ​                                     –Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board                                                                                                                                                                                          

Photo of the Week – Cleanup of SRS K Cooling Tower

Posted in Photo of the Week by Recovery.gov on March 7, 2012
Rubble of K Cooling Tower

Photo contributed to the Recovery.gov Flickr group by Savannah River Site

SRS Recovery Act Update: SRS Recovery Act workers use heavy equipment to remove the rubble of K Cooling Tower while sorting more than 800 tons of reinforced steel for recycling.

One of the most visual milestones of cleanup projects underway within the Department of Energy’s Office of Environmental Management was the demolition of the K-Reactor Cooling Tower at the Savannah River Site (SRS).

Now, this American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project has been completed one month ahead of schedule, with debris from the implosion safely hauled away and deposited in an on-site landfill. With project completion, a great safety achievement was realized.

To complete the project, more than 800 tons of reinforced steel from the structure were sent to a local scrap metal recycler. This recycling effort also helped to stimulate the local economy beyond the SRS Recovery Act Project.

To see more photos of Recovery projects or add your own photos, visit the Recovery.gov Flickr Group.

Project Spotlight – Reconstruction of Water Pumping Stations

Posted in Recovery Projects/Awards by Recovery.gov on March 5, 2012

Map of St. JohnRecipient: Patrick Albin Carlson Joint Venture, LLC

Award Amount: $920,932

The recipient reported that these Recovery funds would be used to:

Provide all materials, equipment, some minor design, and labor required to completely reconstruct four permanent water pumping stations. These stations, which are used for wetland habitat management, are located on the Green River in Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge, Colorado.

Project Status: Completed. Construction began on 6/8/2010 and was reported complete as of 12/31/10.

To see how funds were distributed between the project’s prime and sub recipients and to learn more about the project, check out the Award Summary or enter your zip code to find Recovery projects near you.

IG Report Highlight – Department of Defense

Posted in Inspector General Reports by Recovery.gov on February 29, 2012

DOD IG LogoInspector General Report

From: Department of Defense

Date: January 6, 2012

Re:  Were contractors managed effectively

Background: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mobile unit awarded contractors almost $420 million in Recovery funds for 124 projects. The Pentagon’s Inspector General reviewed 11 contracts related to four projects involving a total $53.6 million in Recovery money.  The purpose of the review was to evaluate how well USACE Mobile managed the contractors’ performances and if USACE had ensured that the contractors reported on the use of the funds.

Findings: USACE Mobile officials had:

  • Established adequate quality controls throughout the life of each contract
  • Monitored contracts for full compliance
  • Ensured that use of funds was reported in clear and understandable manner

Read Full Report

National Endowment for the Arts Closes Books on Recovery Awards

Posted in Agency News, Recipient reporting by Recovery.gov on February 27, 2012

Having distributed $50 million of Recovery funds among more than 700 recipients, and with all projects now complete, the NEA becomes the second federal agency to conclude its Recovery Act activities. (The Smithsonian Institution was first, in July 2011.)

As it normally does with program funding, the NEA divided its awards into two categories:

  • 60 percent were grants awarded on a competitive basis to nonprofit arts and related organizations 
  • 40 percent was awarded to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations.

637 grants were made to nonprofit art and related organizations for a combined $30 million. State/regional arts commissions received a total 56 grants involving approximately $20 million.

All grants were specifically intended to help the nonprofit arts sector weather declines in philanthropic and other support during the recession.

Working Together Pays Rich Dividends

Posted in From the Recovery Board Chair by Recovery.gov on February 22, 2012

What makes for good government?

Building partnerships is certainly a key. Consider the work the Recovery Board has done with its partners at the federal and state levels.

The other day, at a national leadership conference in Washington sponsored by the Association of Government Accountants, I spoke about how cooperation among the Recovery Board, other federal agencies and state officials had produced a more efficient and effective oversight process for the $840 billion Recovery program.

That cooperation is no accident. The Recovery Act, passed in February 2009, encourages states to work closely with the federal government. The law requires the Governor of each state to certify that Recovery funds would be spent properly, a requirement that makes Governors key players in the oversight process.

From the beginning, the Board has focused on assisting state governments. We set up an office that serves as a direct contact for state and local oversight officials, along with Governors and state program agencies. The Board also created a robust “help desk’’ for state governments and other recipients who must file quarterly reports with FederalReporting.gov, the website used to collect spending data.

The federal Inspector General community also works closely with state oversight agencies. As the Inspector General of the Department of Education, I can speak first-hand about this subject. At Education, we focused on ensuring accountability at the state level and local levels. My office:

  • Worked closely with the U.S. Government Accountability Office, the congressional watchdog agency, to determine which states and local education agencies would be reviewed.
  • Shared audit guidelines with state and local auditors who had responsibility for overseeing their Recovery programs.
  • Developed a strong outreach program allowing for continuing contacts by our auditors and investigators at the state and local levels.

In the end, cooperation throughout all levels of government has paid nice dividends: There’s been a lot less fraud and waste in the Recovery program than was initially anticipated.

Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board

Photo of the Week: Building Community Capacity through Broadband

Posted in Broadband, Photo of the Week by Recovery.gov on February 15, 2012

Photo Contributed to the Recovery.gov Flickr Group by WIbroadband

Building Community Capacity through Broadband (BCCB) outreach educator Terri Harings works with a student in Superior, Wisconsin. BCCB is an ARRA-funded Wisconsin broadband project.

To see more photos of Recovery projects or add your own photos, visit the Recovery.gov Flickr Group.

Catching the Bad Guys

Posted in Accountability by Recovery.gov on February 13, 2012

Throughout its three-year history, the Recovery Board has worked closely with law enforcement to keep a watchful eye on the $840 billion stimulus program.

That collaboration has paid remarkable dividends.

Take a look, for instance, at the most recent stats on criminal convictions and monetary losses:

  • There have been 351 convictions, many of them Social Security fraud cases.
  • Losses of Recovery money associated with those convictions total $9.1 million, a relatively small amount.

Now, it’s never good news when thieves steal taxpayers’ money but the idea is to prevent losses or detect the crime early on before the funds are lost.

Fortunately, the Board has developed strong partnerships with the 29 federal Inspectors General who oversee the federal agencies that distribute Recovery Act funds.

That’s not a coincidence; twelve of the IGs serve on the Board.

We use our first-rate analysis center to dig out irregularities linked to recipients of Recovery Act awards and are constantly sending leads and tips to IGs.

The Board also warns federal program managers when we see inconsistencies in agency awards.

The most recent oversight data shows there are 1,826 ongoing investigations relating to Recovery Act awards.  More than 500 cases have been closed.

The IGs also have completed nearly 2,100 reviews of the use of Recovery funds and pressed various agencies to improve management of their Recovery funds.

All in all, that kind of oversight is good news for taxpayers.

Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board

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