(Washington, DC) –Today the House Committee on Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing to continue oversight of the accountability and transparency provisions in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
“Traditionally, oversight has had an after-the-fact focus here in Washington. By the time we learn what went wrong, the money's already gone and we have nothing to show for it,” said Chairman Brad Miller (D-NC). “With the Recovery Act, we’re trying out a new paradigm of government: give many people the opportunity to look at a data set and bring to bear their own expertise and experience, and some unanticipated knowledge may be revealed or unexpected danger avoided.”
Making that paradigm a reality will involve the collection of a massive set of data from thousands of entities across the United States. The management and presentation of that data – in forms accessible and understandable to all citizens – will be a central responsibility of the new Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board set up in the Recovery Act. The Chairman of the Board, Earl Devaney, described for the Subcommittee his plans to build Americans the microscope they've never had so they could watch their dollars at work. Mr. Devaney was joined on the first panel by the acting Comptroller General of the United States, Gene Dodaro. Mr. Dodaro heads the Government Accountability Office, which is focused on the handling of Recovery Act dollars by the other major actors in the process, state and local governments across the country. GAO testified in March on the use of Recovery Act funds for research and development; Mr. Dodaro updated that information for the Subcommittee.
Many concerns have been expressed about the state of Recovery.gov, intended to be the citizen's gateway to Recovery Act activities. Witnesses on the hearing's second panel cautioned Members of the Subcommittee that true transparency and accountability will require visibility into spending in places the federal government did not normally look. Breaching the "transparency barrier" where federal money passed into the coffers of the states would not be an easy task, warned a witness whose company had taken ten years to devise the tools to do that. Dr. Clarence Newsome, President of Shaw University warned that small colleges and universities have good ideas that could benefit from Recovery Act funds, but the barrier for them is simply finding reliable information on where money can be found and how to apply for it. The Subcommittee also heard recommendations relating to the whistleblower protections for non-federal actors provided in the law and the criteria for judging results from the Act.
With the capabilities of the Internet, new channels for gathering information increase the opportunity to forestall misuse of government resources as they happen, not when they are identified in audits months or years later. The Recovery Act expects citizens to be involved at all levels. Mr. Devaney told Rep. Kathy Dahlkemper (D-PA) he hoped to leave behind a prototype for giving similar scrutiny to the government's regular operations. The Subcommittee will continue working with the Board to help Mr. Devaney reach this difficult goal.