May 4, 2009 By Steve Towns, Editor
States can expect more information soon on the rules for tracking stimulus spending and reporting it back to the federal government. They're also likely to get help with paying for stimulus-related transparency efforts.
Officials speaking to state government IT executives in Baltimore last week said the U.S. Office of Management and Budget (OMB) will release stimulus tracking and reporting rules for states within 60 days. The OMB also is considering recommendations to let states use part of the stimulus money to pay for IT systems and other resources needed to meet transparency requirements included in the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
Both issues have caused heartburn for state CIOs charged with meeting ARRA's transparency and accountability mandates. Although stimulus money has been flowing to states for months, rules for tracking those dollars haven't been issued, leaving CIOs in limbo over what information they must capture and how they need to report it to the federal government. In addition, state officials -- already coping with the recession -- are worried they'll get stuck with the bill for transparency tools like upgraded reporting systems and new stimulus Web sites.
Dave Quam, federal relations director for the National Governors Association, said a meeting last week in Washington, D.C., between state stimulus czars and federal officials yielded new information on when states can expect stimulus reporting rules. Those rules are critical as state officials scramble to comply with an Oct. 10 deadline for the first official reports to the federal government on where stimulus dollars are being spent.
"There's going to be a lot of guidance coming out in the next month -- probably as much as we're going to get," Quam told state CIOs meeting April 30 at the midyear conference of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). "It won't answer all the questions, but it will provide more specificity -- including some of the architecture of the systems, which is key for everyone here."
The new state requirements will closely follow OMB stimulus rules for federal agencies issued in early April, he said.
"One thing they [OMB] made clear is that the guidance that came out in April is going to be the model for the states," Quam said. "Read it, because that's what they're going to expect from us. So we have some clear signs of what will be required of state systems and what we'll have to report."
Quam also urged state IT executives to make their concerns about stimulus reporting and tracking requirements known to federal officials.
"The federal government is asking for help," he said. "They're listening to what states have to say, and they're taking those suggestions and implementing them. That's fantastic news because it's an opportunity for all of us to help solve this and try to get it right."
The OMB already appears to be listening to state concerns over the cost of complying with transparency efforts connected to ARRA. The agency is reviewing recommendations that would give states leeway to use stimulus funds to defray the cost of new tracking and reporting tools, according to Stan Czerwinski, director of intergovernmental relations for the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).
GAO audit teams have been deployed in 16 states to monitor the spending of stimulus funds. Based on its interaction with state officials, the agency recommends that the OMB identify portions of stimulus money that can be used to help pay tracking and reporting expenses, Czerwinski said.
"We believe administrative funding is a key," he said. "State and local governments are facing fiscal declines and trying to conserve administrative expenses. There has to be a way to look at Recovery Act funds and use a portion to cover administrative costs."
In addition, the GAO urged the OMB to:
"We've made these recommendations to OMB," Czerwinski said. "They have told us that they agree with them, and will consider them in upcoming guidance."
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