From the Expert:
Stimulus Reporting Deadline Looms
By Jennifer Boyter, CSG Associate Director of Policy and Special Libraries
It’s time for states and other entities that received federal stimulus funds to show their stuff.
Recipients of money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act have until Oct. 10 to register and submit all required information—including descriptions and status of projects, the amount of money received and spent, and the number of jobs created and retained—in their first quarterly reporting to the White House Office of Management and Budget through Federalreporting.gov.
States and federal agencies will have approximately two weeks after the reporting deadline to review the submitted information and make any necessary corrections before the data is posted to www.recovery.gov on Oct. 30. Publicly posting the data generated by this reporting process is designed to allow both government agencies and the public to track where Recovery Act funds are going and how many jobs have been created or saved as a result.
The approaches states are taking to meet the reporting requirements are as varied as the states themselves, according to the National Association of State Auditors, Comptrollers and Treasurers.
Some states centralize all reports through their Recovery Act coordinator or other official. For example, in California, State Inspector General Laura Chick will act as the central reporting figure, aggregating all the state’s required reports. Other states have asked individual state agencies to report directly to the federal government regarding their stimulus projects.
In addition, some states are using existing systems to collect the data, while others are creating completely new systems to do so. For example, Colorado is using a centralized reporting process that primarily uses its existing accounting and contract management systems, while Florida has developed a new reporting system.
Federal officials have touted the data reporting initiatives as the most ambitious, most transparent gathering of government data in history. As the largest recipients of the stimulus funding, states will bear the brunt of the reporting requirements, and face numerous challenges in doing so.
Despite the best efforts of the federal government and the reporting agencies, there will most likely be problems with the data from the first reporting deadline.
“This unprecedented level of detailed information to be reported by a large number of recipients into a new centralized reporting system raises possible risk for the quality and reliability of these data,” the General Accounting Office said in a report. It concluded, “significant risks exist that will likely negatively impact the completeness, accuracy, and reliability of the information reported in the initial round of reporting.”
How detailed, accurate and complete the data will be is still unclear. Many state and local government officials report confusion about some of the reporting requirements, and indicate they have received conflicting advice from different federal agencies.
In addition, the October deadline represents the first time Recovery Act recipients will use the new reporting system and Web site. There are also several data points that require subjective entries, which will likely result in a wide range of answers. For example, states are required to estimate the number of jobs created by specific projects, but the site does not provide standardized guidance on how best to do so.
The determination of compliance with the reporting deadline is significantly complicated by the fact that officials are unsure about the exact number of stimulus recipients. This is largely due to the large number of subrecipients, often local governments, that must report to the primary recipient, generally the state government. Consequently, states will likely bear the brunt for ensuring the data’s accuracy while reviewing subrecipients’ submissions.
Questions about the accuracy and reliability of the data could be detrimental to the efforts of transparency and accountability.
Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which was created by Congress to provide transparency related to the use of Recovery funds and to prevent and detect fraud, waste, and mismanagement, told the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Sept. 10 that “if recipients do not report the required information for whatever reason—mistake, neglect, or willfulness—the data on Recovery.gov will not be as insightful as it should be.”