Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Some recovery info

This blogger printed out the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" (258-page PDF) and was perusing it. It's quite something seeing the sums listed, e.g. USD 350 million (for watershed and flood prevention operations); USD 2.825 billion (for wireless and broadband deployment grant programs), USD 18.5 billion (for energy efficiency and renewable energy); etc. As Everett McKinley Dirksen famously is supposed to have said, "a billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking about real money." This is real money!! A few things that interested this blogger:
  • There is a lot of language around the need for speed. For example, from Sec 1102 Preference for quick start activities: "In using funds made available in this act for infrastructure investment, recipients shall give preference to activities that can be started and completed expeditiously, including a goal of using at least 50 percent of the funds for activities that can be initiated not later than 120 days after the date of enactment of this Act." Section 1103 sets very tight time frames for grant funding e.g. competitive grants to be awarded in 90 days. However, responsibly spending hundreds of billions in a very short time frame is not as easy as one might think, and there is a lot of discussion and even controversy about how soon the expenditures will take place and when the economic effects of the stimulus will be felt...
  • Further to getting the funds spent so that the nation will derive the hoped for economic benefits, all the funds to be appropriated will be "good" until September 30th, 2010 (unless otherwise specified within the Act), per Sec 1105 Period of Availability.

  • Understanding that spending these huge amounts in a short time frame could be problematic, the Act provides USD 240.5 million (available to be used until 2013) to a number of Offices of Inspectors General for oversight and audit:

    • Agriculture USD $22.5 million; Commerce $10 million; Defense $15 million; Education $14 million; Energy $15 million; Health & Human Services $19 million; Homeland Security $19 million; Housing & Urban Development $15 million; Interior $15 million; Justice $2 million; Labor $6 million; Transportation $20 million; Veterans Affairs $1 million, EPA $20 million; General Services Administration $15 million; NASA $2 million; National Science Foundation $2 million; Small Business Administration $10 million; Social Security Administration $2 million; and the Corporation for National and Community Service $1 million. Add another $25 million for the GAO.
    • Per Sec 1109 Prohibited Uses none of the funds are to be spent for "any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, or swimming pool." One wonders where this list came from, and if other things not specified on this list would be 'appropriate uses' of the funds e.g. hot tubs, ski slopes, beaches, etc.

  • All of the amounts for expenditure are designated as emergency requirements and necessary to meet emergency needs.
  • Every agency that receives funds will be obliged to meet multiple transparency requirements, including posting information re their spending plans, grants available, grant awards, operational funding, etc., etc. on the government website.
  • As the money is spent various government entities will periodically review and report on them e.g. the Council of Economic Advisers will report quarterly re their estimated economic impact on the country.
  • A 7-member Presidential-appointed "Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board" will be established to further coordinate and conduct oversight of spending under the Act. This board receives $14 million in funding.
  • The Act contains employee whistleblower protections (including non-Federal employees.

The above takes up 31 pages, which are followed by the lists of amounts for various areas, broadly divided into the following groups:

  • Agriculture, Nutrition, and Rural Development
  • Commerce, Justice, and Science
  • Defense
  • Energy and Water
  • Financial Services and General Government
  • Homeland Security
  • Interior and Environment
  • Labor, Health & Human Services, Education
  • Military Construction and Veterans Affairs
  • Department of State
  • Transportation, Housing & Urban Development

This spreadsheet lists many of the proposed expenditures (divided into the groups above). Some general observations:

  • Some of these expenditures are further broken down and subject to numerous "provided" and "provided further" conditions, while others are not e.g. USD 3.75 billion for the construction of veterans' affairs hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers.

  • Some portions of this Act amend past legislation e.g. "technical corrections to the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007"; other portions contain entirely new legislation e.g. related to healthcare effectiveness research and health information technology, presumably in furtherance of some of the healthcare reforms suggested by Tom Daschle...

  • Given the sums being bandied about, the suggestion that the Act contains no pet projects is risible. When the time comes to decide where to spend the various monies e.g. the USD 3.75 billion for veterans' hospitals and clinics, is there any doubt in ones mind that members of the administration, every elected representative, and the general public in every state will have definite ideas re the best place to build those facilities (i.e. in their communities)?
  • Finally, with the amounts of money under consideration, as well as the complexity, it would beehove our elected representatives to do this right. If that means taking some extra time to tweak this, in fact them even taking the time to actually read the Act (this would seem a given, but based on history it is not!) then that would be vastly better than ramming through the legislation because it is "an emergency."

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