In the context of the "stimulus" package, there is a lot of talk about transparency and accountability – and for good reasons.
And while the bill passed by Congress contains provisions that strive to provide for such transparency and accountability, we know they are insufficient. As Jerry Brito, senior researcher at the Mercatus Center at George Washington University pointed out in his testimony before a House committee last week:
While the Recovery Act requires that recipients of federal stimulus funds report, to awarding agencies, how the funds are spent, there is no clear instruction that every level of subcontract or subgrant must be disclosed (… )This is very troubling. If the government wants to ensure meaningful accountability, then we must have transparency at every level of transaction. It is not enough for citizens to know that the EPA made a grant to New Jersey, which in turn made a sub-grant to Newark. We also need to know that Newark made a payment to “Barone Sanitation,” which a citizen with local knowledge could recognize as a firm owned by a councilmember’s son-in-law.
Yes, the sub-award information will be important to hold government accountable. Unfortunately, we are now reminded by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, that while there was a requirement to implement a pilot program for sub-award reporting in the context of USAspending.gov by the beginning of this year, the deadline came and went – and the information is still missing.
What’s worse, as Dr. Coburn points out in a letter to OMB, there are apparently still some disclosure delinquents among the agencies:
(…) there appear to be several agencies, including the Economic Development Administration, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and the Department of the Treasury, with consistent problems fully reporting data to grants and contracts as required by the law, according to a March 6, 2009 decument that charts progress of data submissions on the USAspending website.
This is indeed troubling – but, unfortunately – at least with regard to the folks in charge of running TARP – not too surprising.
In the letter Dr. Coburn asks a few pointed questions and gives OMB until April 10 to respond. Let’s hope he gets good answers.