With demand for hardware and software stalled by the economic recession, a growing number of technology vendors are hoping the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will provide them with some economic stimulus of their own.
Tough reporting and tracking requirements for stimulus spending that are coming little by little from the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) are spurring new software tools from big vendors like Microsoft, SAP and others that are tailored specifically for the management of stimulus projects.
Though it's not surprising that software companies would try to capitalize upon the Recovery Act to offer new products, the quick pace of their development has been unusual. And vendors and government officials agree that quick deployments are vital in this case. The first deadline set by the OMB for stimulus reporting is Oct. 10.
"These dollars are going to be watched closer than any federal dollar that has ever come out of the Treasury," said Dave Quam, the director of federal relations for the National Governors Association. "We're talking Congress, reporters, states, locals -- everyone is going to be watching this money. You might be able to know exactly where your tax dollar went at the end of the day. That's pretty remarkable considering where we are right now."
But challenges are ahead. States will be asked to do more than they've ever done before, Quam said. And the same burden of transparency and detailed recordkeeping has also been placed upon local governments. That's why software designed specifically for the stimulus is needed, vendors argue.
Getting Out in Front
States received a bit of financial relief on May 11 when OMB Director Peter Orszag sent a memo to agency and department heads that permitted 0.5 percent of total Recovery Act funds received to be recouped on administrative costs. This would presumably include the deployment of software to track stimulus dollars.
Governments find themselves with a choice: purchase a solution that's built specifically for the stimulus, or forge ahead with enterprise software they already own.
Rich Robinson, the chief operating officer of San Francisco's Department of Technology, said when he read the Federal Segmented Architecture Methodology and the first draft of the stimulus package reporting requirements, he quickly realized that it would take from 18 to 24 months for his IT department to build an in-house reporting application -- much too long.
"What I initially saw was a significant gap," Robinson said. "The reason there was a gap was because the local governments -- being a city or county, you have lots of different agencies: public health, public transportation, law enforcement -- all to some extent do their own thing on project management and financial accounting."
Robinson said he knew that the 65 departments in the consolidated city-county government would have to be on the same page for stimulus reporting, because the hefty sum of at least $500 million is estimated to be awarded to San Francisco. He decided the best choice was to turn to a vendor for a solution, Microsoft's Stimulus 360. It has been deployed in San Francisco's controller's office, the mayor's office, and it soon will be used by the auditor's office.
Robinson believes San Francisco's stimulus projects will be under even more scrutiny than elsewhere because of the city's large community of activists. Therefore, he said it was important to get out in front of the reporting issue. But he said some of his peers in other large cities are probably falling behind.
"Chicago seems to be understanding, and Washington, D.C., and the state