Witnesses Outline Challenges for Stimulus Oversight

Nov 30, 2011
Witnesses Outline Challenges for Stimulus Oversight

Washington DC – Today, the Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to receive an update on accountability, transparency, and performance issues associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), commonly referred to as the Stimulus bill.  Today’s hearing focused on efforts by agency Inspector General Offices (OIG), the Government Accountability Office (GAO), and the Recovery, Accountability, and Transparency Board to monitor ARRA funding.

“As we have seen in recent months, efforts by agencies to conduct the proper due diligence can be challenging for a number of reasons including external deadlines, insufficient training, or inadequate staffing or funding levels,” said Subcommittee Chairman Paul Broun (R-GA).  “A lot of the work done on accountability has focused on being able to track where money is going and for what purpose.  While this is important, evaluations of accountability should also address whether the intended goals of the Act have been met using specific metrics.” Chairman Broun expressed longstanding concerns that although taxpayers may know where their tax dollars are being spent, they are not able to learn the impact of that spending on job creation.

Testifying today on behalf of GAO, Mr. Frank Rusco, Director of the Natural Resources and Environment Team, discussed problems the Department of Energy (DOE) has had in calculating impacts of ARRA spending.  Mr. Rusco said it has “been a challenge for DOE to provide an accurate assessment of the impact Recovery Act funding has had on job creation, environmental risk reduction, and the life-cycle costs of its cleanup program.”  Mr. Rusco was critical of the various methodologies DOE used to assess jobs creation, saying that they “provided very different and potentially misleading information.”

High-risk areas highlighted by the witnesses included DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, Environmental Cleanup Projects, the Loan Guarantee Program, and the Weatherization Assistance Program.  High-risk areas identified at other agencies focused on construction programs and shipbuilding.  Witnesses also expressed uncertainty about what happens to ARRA funding if a grant recipient goes bankrupt, or if recipients are unable to spend funds by the OMB deadline of September 30, 2013.  

However, not all of the testimony was negative.  Chairman Broun noted that “Funding for basic research at the Department of Energy’s Office of Science and NASA appears to have been administered quickly and efficiently.”

Mr. Michael Wood, Executive Director of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said that “Transparency leads to public engagement, which in turn enhances the government’s effectiveness and improve the quality of its decisions.”  Mr. Wood said that “Taxpayers have every right to know where and how their hard-earned dollars are being spent, and government officials must be held accountable.”

Along these lines Chairman Broun echoed the need for continued oversight.  “Regardless of whether you agree with the underlying Act, Congress has an obligation to make sure that if taxpayer money is going to be spent, that it is done appropriately.  Minimizing waste, fraud, and abuse is a nonpartisan endeavor that I am sure we can all agree with.”

Today’s hearing is the third Subcommittee hearing examining oversight of ARRA spending at the federal science agencies.

The following witnesses testified today before the Subcommittee:

Mr. Frank Rusco, Director, Natural Resources and Environment Team, Government Accountability Office

Mr. Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board

The Honorable Gregory Friedman, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy

The Honorable Todd Zinser, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Commerce

Ms. Allison Lerner, Inspector General, National Science Foundation

Ms. Gail Robinson, Deputy Inspector General, National Aeronautics and Space Administration