Sometimes in government there are pleasant surprises. This is a story about one of them.
Over the past 18 months, more than 75,000 prime recipients of Recovery Act funds, including state governments, universities, non-profits and companies, have complied with the law and submitted quarterly reports on their stimulus spending to the Recovery Board. The most recent analysis shows that only 366 reports have not been filed, or less than a half percent.
That’s good news to the Recovery and to taxpayers. Most recipients, it is clear, accept the idea that if they take taxpayer dollars, they have a legal and ethical obligation to report on their spending. The Recovery Act leaves no doubt: “Not later than 10 days after the end of each calendar quarter, each recipient that received Recovery funds from a federal agency shall submit a report.’’
But when the Board launched its reporting system back in October 2009, creating a website called FederalReporting.gov, we didn’t know what to expect. How many recipients would thumb their noses or fail to report because of technical glitches or other reasons? Would the reporting system work? Were our instructions to recipients clear enough to permit easy reporting?
We quickly cleared up early technical problems with FederalReporting.gov. But since this was a new reporting program, something never done before, a large number of reports—specifically, 4,359—were not submitted in the initial period. In the second reporting period, which closed in January 2010, that figure had dropped to 1,036 non-reported awards.
Still, the number was too high, representing $583 million in Recovery funds for which taxpayers had received no accounting. The Board decided back then that it was time to embarrass those who had failed to file reports in the initial two periods. We published a list of “two-time losers” on Recovery.gov. At the same time, I publicly called on federal agencies, which disbursed money to recipients, to take whatever administrative actions they could against those who flouted the law so cavalierly.
In April of last year, Vice President Joe Biden visited the Recovery Board offices and took the occasion to announce a Presidential memo outlining a new, get-tough policy against Recovery scofflaws. That memo directed agencies to pursue administrative sanctions, including suspension and debarment, reclaiming misused funds and terminating awards.
However, there are still recipients out there who have failed to submit reports in two or more consecutive quarters.
- Item: Eyak Technology, LLC, an Alaska Native-owned small business with offices in Virginia, has never filed a report on a $656,960 award. Eyak is actually challenging the reporting requirement in the U.S. Civilian Board of Contract Appeals.
- Item: Sunland Industries LLC, a California concern, has repeatedly failed to file a report on a $229,332 award issued by the Department of the Interior in September 2009. Sunland was suspended from government work, and the agency’s Office of Inspector General has recommended a permanent debarment. The matter is under review.
- Item: Dell Federal Systems LP, citing "clerical oversight," failed to file reports for two consecutive quarters on a $150,699 contract.
- Item: Tampa Ship LLC did not file reports for two consecutive quarters on a $2,270,172 grant after failing to renew its required government registration form.
And so it goes. The excuses for not reporting, catalogued in federal agency files, run the gamut. Some recipients gave none at all; others said they were confused with the reporting requirements; and one even cited “internal management issues.’’ The best: “Recipient was unexpectedly pulled out of the office for some out of town meetings for several days and was unable to connect laptop to a wireless connection.’’ Really?
The way I look at it, there are no good excuses for failing to report to taxpayers. Recipient reporting is at the heart of the Board’s accountability program. You can be certain we will keep up the pressure on the relatively few recipients who ignore their reporting obligations.