States are getting more comfortable with the reporting requirements for funds doled out from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office.

But last year, the states initially were thrown for a loop when the federal government asked them to report data in more detail than they had ever done before. States scrambled to improve their back-room financial systems to meet the demands.

Pennsylvania was fortunate to have a head start. By adding onto an existing SAP BusinessObjects suite it had previously acquired, the state was able to adapt to the stimulus by spending less than $2 million, according to Naomi Wyatt, the state's secretary of administration.

Since October 2009, Pennsylvania has submitted more than 1,000 reports to the federal government, and Wyatt believes the state was the first to file its stimulus data with the federal government last year.

Wyatt talked with Government Technology about how Pennsylvania was able to make it happen so quickly.

Last year, when the federal government first outlined what be the procedures for reporting data from the economic stimulus, a.k.a. the Recovery Act, how tough was it to assemble a workflow for those requirements?

It felt like we got hit by a tidal wave in February 2009. It was a great relief to all of the state budget officers, but in terms of the dollars, the flow and the reporting and all those things, it was a huge set of requirements that just sort of came out of nowhere. For at least the first month or two, we spent a great deal of time just trying to figure out exactly what would be coming our way in terms of: Would the dollars be flowing through the state government, or just go directly out into communities? How much would we have to report on? To what level? Would we just have to report what we gave somebody? Would we have to report them on behalf of that somebody? Do we have to report on behalf of the "somebody's somebody?" It was a real learning curve for everybody.

It was a lot of back and forth of the federal government in terms of what kind of data they were going to be asking from us to what level of detail. How specific would we have to be? How much would we be on the hook for the bad data that we got from other people? I remember being on conference call after conference call with lists of questions to figure out those parameters.

How did your state decide to handle it?

Pennsylvania determined pretty early on the set of tools that we were going to use, so we had a bit of an advantage. We instituted SAP in 2002, so we were already using that for our procurement, financials and budget. So we didn't have to set up an entirely new system just to deal with [the stimulus]. What we did have to do, though, is combine the system we already had with some legacy systems that we had in our individual agencies. For example, everybody uses SAP for finance. But our transportation agency also has its own project management tools, so that when it's doing a road project, it's tracking the dollars it's spending with each individual vendor and tracking the deadlines.

So you had to bring those systems together so you had a single view?

Right. Once we've started nailing down with the feds what kind of data elements we would need, some of those elements were well outside SAP and were in other systems. What we had to do was create a system that would pull

Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor