The Obama Administration recognizes the importance of the Recovery Act and doing a credible job in its implementation. The initial emphasis was on accountability to ensure the monies were not ill-spent.
President Obama emphasized this in his meetings with both governors and mayors. In speaking to state governors on February 23, President Obama said:
“. . . I’m announcing today that I’m asking my Vice President, Joe Biden, to oversee our administration’s implementation efforts. Beginning this week, Joe will meet regularly with key members of my Cabinet to make sure our efforts are not just swift, but also efficient and effective. Joe is also going to work closely with you, our nation’s governors, as well as our mayors and everyone else involved in this effort, to keep things on track. And the fact that I’m asking my Vice President to personally lead this effort shows how important it is for our country and our future to get this right, and I thank him for his willingness to take on this critical task. In the coming weeks, we’re also going to appoint some of the nation’s best managers and public officials to work with the Vice President on this effort.”
He’s been known to call Vice President Biden the “sheriff,” in overseeing the Recovery Act. There’s been a lot of emphasis on accountability, with the creation of www.recovery.gov and the creation of the Recovery Act Transparency Board, headed by Earl Devaney.
But it’s increasingly clear that accountability can’t be the primary emphasis. Obama needs a “trail boss,” not a sheriff! The Washington Post’s Alec MacGillis says this will be a chance for public servants to show government can work.
The lack of some key appointees has been part of the challenge. The “normal” government would have seen the deputy director for management at OMB and the deputy secretaries taking the lead in implementing an initiative of this scale. But these positions are still being filled. So another approach is being used.
Today, Vice President Biden hosted a conference of state budet officials to describe progress so far on the Recovery Act’s implementation. He said the President will announce new implementation rules tomorrow.
Here are some of the key pieces of the evolving governance structure that have been developed so far:
Vice President’s Office. Vice President Biden convened his first meeting on February 24th with an emphasis on transparency and accountability. But the meeting quickly shifted to implementation, with a high concern over whether the contracting workforce can handle the anticipated increase in their workload (for example, the General Services Administration’s budget is increasing by 1,130 percent, without much of an increase in contract staffing).
Office of Management and Budget. OMB has taken an early lead by publishing initial guidance, mainly for the reporting requirements in the Act. Government Executive published a helpful “Economic Stimulus Checklist” to keep the various reporting requirements in line. Agencies’ first weekly reports on the Recovery Act were due March 3rd.
OMB is also flagging potential problems, such as yesterday’s announcement that the governmentwide portal for grants applications, www.grants.gov, could be overwhelmed if steps are not taken to ensure it has the capacity to process the number of expected grants applications. Agencies have until March 13th to assess their grants management systems.
Office of Personnel Management. OPM knows that getting the right people in place is going to be a key element of success. It has been pressed to delegate certain authorities to agencies, and in response convened a governmentwide meeting to work out the details.
Agency Recovery Act Coordinators. The White House asked agencies to designate a point of contact for their agencies. Lacking political appointees in many agencies, this started slow, but agencies are now making progress. For example, Interior Secretary Salazar named his choice recently. Agency finance officers are seeing major challenges, as well, according to Government Executive’s Katherine Peters, who says agency chief financial officers are facing staff shortages already, and have a growing workload from other programs, as well.
State Recovery Act Coordinators. States are designating Recovery Act coordinators as well, to serve not only as a counterpart to their federal coordinators but also to work across their own state governments. States are creating their own Recovery Act websites as well that are being linked to the federal site. These sites are in response to the reporting requirements in the Recovery Act.
External Efforts to Monitor Progress. External groups are also evolving to monitor the implementation of the Recovery Act. For example, StimulusWatch is sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation.