October 1, 2009 By Matt Williams
Grant, loan and contract recipients of the federal government's $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act began sending their spending data to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) on Thursday, Oct. 1, and the reporting will continue for 10 days.
The stimulus recipients have been instructed to upload data to FederalReporting.gov in one of three ways: Excel, XML or manually entered. Many of the recipients are state and local governments or educational institutions.
OMB spokesman Tom Gavin said the Web site had received several hundred data submissions as of midday Thursday, and that so far there were no problems to report. It was an exciting and challenging day for the OMB, he said.
Observers of the process are curious to see how complete, accurate and detailed the data that's sent in turns out to be, and what it shows about the efficiency and transparency of the stimulus package.
In an interview Thursday with Federal News Radio's Daily Debrief hosted by Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, policy analyst Craig Jennings of OMB Watch, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization, said that officials may have to rethink the reporting process if there are wide gaps between the amount of money the recipients report and how much the federal agencies say they've disbursed via the stimulus. On the other hand, if the numbers are close it could bode well for the data reporting initiative, which federal officials are touting as the most ambitious, most transparent gathering of government data in history.
One complicating factor is that watchdogs and government officials are unsure exactly how many stimulus recipients there are -- and therefore can't be sure how many of them are supposed to be logging on to FederalReporting.gov. InformationWeek reported Sept. 28 that 22,000 have registered on the Web site. But OMB Director Peter Orszag wrote in a memo two months ago that the registrations at the time were below projections.
"That's really an unknown quantity because there are going to be subrecipients who are getting the money," said Jennings, referring to the second layer of recipients that are often local governments. The prime recipients are state governments.
Furthermore, all the spending data probably won't show up in the reports. For example, the OMB doesn't require stimulus recipients to publicly disclose the names of vendors that were paid less than $25,000.
State budget officials say that the states are bearing the brunt of the data's accuracy because they will have to review subrecipients' data for accuracy after the Oct. 10 reporting deadline and then send corrections to the OMB. In order to deal with the workload, some government agencies chose to buy software solutions tailored for Recovery Act reporting and project management.
Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Chairman Earl Devaney said the spending data will be integrated into Recovery.gov by Oct. 30.
Vice President Joe Biden told a meeting of Cabinet officials Thursday that by the end of October, the government should have a precise accounting of the stimulus. But it won't be perfect.
"There's going to be some glitches there, because unlike even what we demand of corporations, [recipients of the stimulus] are having to report everything out there that's obligated and/or spent," Biden said. "We're not going to have the time to scrub it as closely as you ordinarily would, but [that's what] you [federal] guys are going to be doing, and they're going to be doing as well.
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