Tags: OMB | recovery | act

OMB Works to Avoid Recovery Act Bottleneck

Saturday, 21 Mar 2009 04:40 AM

By Dave Eberhart

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The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was raced through Congress but has slowed considerably in implementation.

The Office of Management and Budget (OMB) reported that 75 percent of the emergency spending designed to infuse life into an economy in crisis will not take place until the conclusion of fiscal year 2010 in September 2010. Meanwhile, 91 percent of the kitty will be exhausted by September 2011.

Not unmindful of recovery delayed may be recovery denied, OMB director Peter Orszag announced measures to ensure that recovery plan dollars are not, “stuck in a bottleneck because of inadequate systems or overwhelmed network servers.”

Some investments will be spent after September 2011, but this is generally because they are large projects that will be started in 2009 or 2010 but will take longer to complete, he explained.

The Recovery Act features much touted measures to modernize the nation’s infrastructure, enhance energy independence, expand educational opportunities, preserve and improve affordable health care, provide tax relief, and protect those in greatest need.

The Act was signed into law by President Barack Obama on February 17th, 2009 after a speedy trip through the halls of Congress.

The Senate called a special Saturday debate session for February 7 at the urging of President Obama. The Senate then voted on February 9 to end debate on the bill and advance it to the Senate floor. On February 10, the Senate passed the measure.

The trip through the House of Representatives was just as speedy. On February 12, 2009, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer scheduled the vote on the bill for the next day -- before wording on the bill’s content had even been completed. Waived in the frantic rush was a House Democrats promise to allow a 48-hour public review period before any vote.

In keeping with the Obama Administration’s pledge for transparency in all things, the plan requires timely public reports and disclosure of detailed data on investments, an Accountability and Transparency Board to monitor progress achieved, and a website to provide detailed data on each contract awarded.

Short on Detailed Data

A visit to that Website, Recovery.gov, however, doesn’t deliver much if anything in the way of detailed data.

When the site visitor asks about the lack of specifics, the officials that oversee the site respond:

“You aren’t able to track funds yet because we have not yet started receiving information from Federal agencies on how they are going to allocate the money. It takes a little bit of time for them to make sure your money is going to be spent wisely. Right now, the site features an overview of the law and an explanation of what it is intended to accomplish. You will have access to data as soon as we begin receiving it from agencies.”

When the site visitor wants to see how much recovery money is coming to his or her community, the response is:

“Until the funding is distributed by the Federal government to states and local governments, and eventually to your community, we won’t be able to determine exactly where all of the funding will go. Over the next few weeks and months, there’s going to be a lot of data coming in, as we coordinate with different agencies. As soon as the first dollars start to go out, you’ll be able to track where the money is going.”

All these promises have OMB hopping.

In a recent press release, OMB noted that to make sure that Recovery Act funds are not delayed because of inadequate computer systems, it was pressing ahead with immediate upgrades to handle the expected grant application crush.

“The Recovery Act is a critical part of the effort to jumpstart economic activity. We want to make sure that the systems are in place to handle what everyone expects will be an unprecedented number of grant applications. We also must continue uninterrupted the Recovery Act’s unprecedented levels of transparency and accountability,” OMB Director Peter Orszag explained.

To that end, Orszag has directed federal departments and agencies to immediately review their grant systems and make improvements to handle what is anticipated to be a 60 percent increase in application volume between April and August.

The deadline for departments and agencies to analyze risks and offer solutions was March 13.

‘Significant Risk of Failure’

The central portal for people to find and apply for competitive grants -- Grants.gov -- already is experiencing a significant increase in volume. When combined with the expected increase in applications for Recovery Act funding, there is a “significant risk of failure,” according to Orszag’s directive to federal departments.

“After a close and diligent review of system limitations, we have determined this risk to be unacceptably high and, as a result, I am instructing the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal agency that operates and maintains Grants.gov, and the General Services Administration, which serves as the facilitator of government-wide E-gov solutions, to work together to initiate immediate improvements designed to accommodate this expected volume increase,” the OMB chief said.

“I am further instructing Federal grant-making agencies to immediately identify alternative methods for accepting grant applications during the Recovery Act’s expected peak period to reduce demand on Grants.gov’s limited resources,” he concluded.

On the Job Training Front

On a more stimulating note, the U.S. Department of Labor yesterday issued policy guidance to states and outlying areas for the implementation of American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 investments in core employment and training programs.

This critical investment of $3,514,500,000 in the nation’s workforce system and network of One-Stop Career Centers is intended to help unemployed Americans upgrade their skills and get back to work.

“One-Stop Career Centers have a wide array of services and resources to help workers and youth who are unemployed or underemployed,” said Secretary of Labor Hilda L. Solis. “Through the One-Stops, the workforce system will play a vital role in America's economic recovery by assisting workers who are facing unprecedented challenges to retool their skills and re-establish themselves in viable career paths.”

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