So what do you think of the Recovery program? Some of you no doubt support the Obama administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus program; others may believe it is a massive waste of taxpayer dollars.
For the Recovery Board, however, your views on the merits of the program cannot drive our decisions. Sounds a bit cavalier, I know, but actually it’s not. Under the Recovery Act, Congress directed the Board to operate independently. Our job is not to take a position on the program, but to provide you with the unvarnished facts needed to assess whether the government is spending your tax dollars wisely.
Although challenging at times, we have accomplished that mission over our 22-month history. We created and staffed a new agency, we developed a sophisticated analytical and oversight tool known as the Recovery Operations Center, and we created three websites allowing users to track Recovery money and a separate $10 billion education spending program. We did this all while staying under budget.
Early on, we knew our task would be difficult. Inspectors General from 12 government agencies serve with me on the Board, and all of us built our reputations on fighting crime and preventing misuse of government funds. None of us were known for having the technical wizardry to develop sophisticated websites that could collect and display massive amounts of data in user friendly and visually compelling ways.
What to do? The Board wasted no time assembling a gifted staff of government employees and private contractors—real workhorses who could work under deadline pressure and produce quality work. Within six months, our team created FederalReporting.gov, the password-protected site for collecting spending data from recipients of Recovery funds, and launched version 2.0 of Recovery.gov, which displays that recipient data along with information from federal agencies on their award allocations.
Not all went smoothly. The initial recipient reporting period began on October 1, 2009, the first day of Fiscal Year 2010. The Board anticipated problems in those initial filings, and we weren’t surprised when some recipients had a tough time preparing their reports. But as recipients became more familiar with the data reporting requirements over the past year, they made fewer mistakes and their reporting improved markedly. In the last quarter ending September 30, we processed more than 200,000 reports from prime and sub-recipients of Recovery awards without any major hiccups.
We also developed a strong accountability program designed to ensure that taxpayer dollars were protected. In November 2009, we launched the Recovery Operations Center, the foundation of our oversight program. The operations center, staffed by expert analysts, uses sophisticated software tools, government databases and open source information to search for irregularities, questionable connections, and indicators of fraud in the Recovery program.
Other agencies have lauded the operations center. At a fraud conference in Philadelphia last month, Vice President Joe Biden likened the operation to a NASA control room. “It’s astounding,’’ he said, explaining that the operations center looks for patterns of illegal activity and acts as “an early warning system’’ for auditors and investigators.
Obviously, that kind of support is gratifying. But we have not been an agency that rests on its laurels. This past October, we unveiled a number of new features on Recovery.gov, including a Map Gallery, a Developer Center for sophisticated data users, and our Recovery Blog. In the coming weeks and months, look for new interactive maps and other features that will make it easier to access information you want. We also are planning a major upgrade to the Recovery Operations Center that will strengthen our ability to spot irregularities in Recovery contracts, grants and loans.
Finally, enhancements will be made to FederalTransparency.gov, the website we recently created to display information on the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund program. This will include interactive maps and charts and details on awards made to local school districts. Congress gave the Board the responsibility for overseeing this non-Recovery program.
We think we have done a good job overseeing the Recovery program and providing you with the facts. If not, let us know. We are dedicated to transparency in our actions and we are accountable to you.