Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Transparency Pot Shots

July 20, 2009

recovery1The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board estimates that about 200,000 entities (state agencies, localities, companies, non-profits) will be entering data into the recovery.gov website.

Anybody can look up every expenditure reported. But how do you ensure clarity and accuracy? Will media or others take pot shots without attempting to follow through on unclear information that’s been posted?

Today, the answer is “yes.”  Drudge Report started posting some odd-looking entries into the recovery.gov system with alarming headlines, such as:  “AWARDED: $1,191,200 FOR ’2 POUND FROZEN HAM SLICED’ “  This led to a quick scramble by the Department of Agriculture to explain

“The references to “2 pound frozen ham sliced” are to the sizes of the packaging. Press reports suggesting that the Recovery Act spent $1.191 million to buy “2 pounds of ham” are wrong. In fact, the contract in question purchased 760,000 pounds of ham for $1.191 million, at a cost of approximately $1.50 per pound.”

Is it up to the data submitter (in this case, Clougherty Packing, LLC), the reporter, or the government to ensure clarity or context?  Doing data quality control over 200,000 separate submitters and still allow relatively “real time” access to data is probably impossible.  Will a political “gotcha” atmosphere temper the Obama Administration’s efforts to increase transparency?  Or is this just the price of getting it right?

As Recovery Board chairman Earl Devaney notes in his first blog post today:  “Think of Recovery.gov as a “New Dawn” in transparency and accountability. To my way of thinking, the government will have to follow this model in future spending. The public will not accept any less, and you shouldn’t.”

Recovery Act Tracking

June 23, 2009

recovery1The Washington Post reports today that a new survey shows citizens’ confidence is slipping in their belief that the Recovery Act will boost the economy. 

Whoever was surveyed clearly has not been reading OMB guidance on expectations for how these monies will be tracked!

The complexity of implementing the Recovery Act is becoming clearer over time.  In fact, this was the focus of the feature article in this month’s Government Executive magazine, “Untangling the Recovery.”  In that article, author Robert Brodsky notes: “For the nation’s 2.7 million federal employees, the stimulus plan represents a more personal mission. It is a chance for redemption, to convince the rest of the world that the government still can operate as an efficient and effective management organization.”

Even the Washington Post notes: “Tracking Stimulus Spending May Not Be as Easy as Promised,” and cites how a private website, www.recovery.org, is reporting seemingly more complete information, faster.  But this private site doesn’t have to develop guidance for, and document, how many jobs are being saved or created! 

Government Executive’s Katherine Peters notes that tracking the number of jobs will be tricky and “documenting that number may take some fancy footwork.”  Federal Times’ Gregg Carlstrom wrote a couple weeks ago that the Office of Management and Budget would be coming out with guidance last week.  But it was delayed; when circulated to agencies for comment, OMB got more than 700 comments to resolve.  So it was released late yesterday.

The new OMB guidance, dated June 22, finally clarifies the two streams of data (money going out vs. reporting back on dollars spent, project results, and jobs created or saved).  It also creates a distinction between what it does vs. what the Recovery Board does by creating a new, separate website.  The new website, federalreporting.gov/, is to be used by grant, contract, and loan recipients and sub-recipients to report back to the federal government.  The new guidance explains how they are to report information on this new website.  It also promises: “Additional guidance to Federal government contractors will be forthcoming. . . revised guidance on lobbyist communications is also forthcoming.”

The guidance also includes a supplement which, for the first time, lists all 306 federal programs that receive Recovery Act funds and are included in the reporting system.  Some of these are listed here, along with their Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance number, to provide some flavor of the diversity of this effort:

The variety suggests the complexity of reporting back data in a consistent manner.  But the guidance also asks for help:  “The general public and non-governmental entities interested in “good government” can help with data quality, as well, by highlight problems for correction.”  They’ll be able to do this via a feedback mechanism on the soon-to-be re-designed Recovery.Gov website.

UPDATE: Robert Brodsky and Elizabeth Newell at Government Executive, wrote a good summary of the guidance in “Stimulus Guidance Calls for More Detailed Reporting.”

Tough Jobs

January 1, 2009

The top cabinet picks are chosen.  But professor Paul Light in an article for the Washington Post,Low-Profile Jobs That Will Stay That Way, If Obama is Prudent,” highlights ten of the most challenging jobs in the federal government. Each of these positions is further described in the Council for Excellence in Government’s “Prune Book On-Line:”

 

 

The Prune Book summarizes over 100 key subcabinet jobs.  Not sure how many of these will be filled from the Change.gov on-line jobs application (understand there are more than 400,000 applicants so far). 

 

Are there others you think would be more important than the ones selected by Dr. Light?  He touches on some of the key jobs dealing with healthcare, for example.  But he seems to focus on positions with traditional, longer-term management challenges raised by the Government Accountability Office and recent headlines, but not the seemingly more urgent positions that would deal with the economy, the bailout, or climate change/energy, which seem to be on the top of the Obama Transition agenda.


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