Shoulders to the Wheel of History
By Chris Whatley, CSG Washington Director and Michael Smith, CSG Legislative Policy Analyst
“States have the opportunity to put their shoulder to the wheel of history,” President Barack Obama told state officials gathered for the White House’s Recovery Act Implementation Conference. The president’s words, however, were tempered by Vice President Joseph Biden’s more sobering warning, “that which is legal under the Recovery Act is not necessarily acceptable to the White House.”
In the confluence of these quotes lies the central challenge for states; they are impelled both by Washington and the people they serve to act quickly to stem the bleeding in the national economy while simultaneously meeting the most stringent accountability requirements ever placed in federal legislation.
The White House conference March 12 represented the first step in an ongoing dialogue designed to help states wrap their heads around the opportunities and challenges inherent in the Recovery Act. Participants included more than 100 officials from 49 states, primarily drawn from governors’ stimulus czar offices, as well as representatives from The Council of State Governments and other state associations.
While the conference provided an invaluable opportunity for states to pose direct questions to cabinet secretaries, Office of Management and Budget officials, and other senior administration representatives, the dialogue produced more questions than answers.
States must track student performance from pre-k to college to access billions in education funding, but the specific standards have yet to be unveiled. States must also track how many jobs are created through all Recovery Act spending, but no methodology has been set for this accounting.
The White House plans to release additional guidance on the implementation of the Recovery Act within the next three to four weeks, Rob Nabors, deputy director for the Office of Management and Budget, told the state officials. During the interim, states are scrambling to submit certification letters to unleash federal funding while hoping the internal controls and reporting procedures they have put in place so far will stand up to future guidance.
The Recovery Act represents the largest and most complex piece of domestic legislation since the New Deal. As in the Great Depression, there is enormous public pressure for government to act quickly. The New Deal was largely a federally run initiative. The Recovery Act, however, depends on states and local governments to implement the programs and projects designed to put people back to work in the short-term and transform the American economy over the long-term.
One of the key requests from conference participants was information on Recovery Act deadlines. To respond to this request, CSG posted a new “Key Deadlines” section to StateRecovery.org including statutory deadlines and updates from federal agencies where available.
The Council of State Governments will continue to update StateRecovery.org as the White House releases new guidance on requirements, deadlines and other vital implementation details in the days and weeks ahead.