Swearing in witnesses (L to R): Frank Rusco, Michael Wood, Gregory H. Friedman, Todd J. Zinser, Allison Lerner, Gail Robinson.
Providing transparency and accountability for the $840 billion stimulus initiative has been challenging but the benefits have been significant. “Transparency leads to public engagement, which in turn enhances the government’s effectiveness and improves the quality of its decisions,” Michael Wood, Executive Director of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, testified to the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations on November 30.
Joining Wood on the witness panel were Board members Gregory H. Friedman and Todd J. Zinser, Inspectors General of the Department of Energy and the Department of Commerce, respectively. In addition, Frank Rusco of the Government Accountability Office, Allison Lerner, Inspector General of the National Science Foundation, and Gail Robinson, Deputy Inspector General of NASA, also testified.
In his testimony, Zinser noted that the Commerce Department had implemented effective internal controls over its recipient reporting procedures, resulting in an overall low rate of data error. “However,” he said, “this success arose as the result of the Department’s grants and contracts personnel performing many manual procedures to compensate for grant and contract system inadequacies.”
“We made recommendations on several areas in which the Department could reduce its reliance on manual effort, increase the efficiency of its reporting, and improve data quality,” Zinser added.
Friedman stated that the Department of Energy received $35.2 billion in Recovery funding – more than $8 billion in addition to its fiscal 2011 budget – posing considerable administrative and procedural challenges to efficient and timely distribution of funds. One DOE program, the ongoing weatherization of homes and offices, received ten times its normal amount of funding.
But the DOE’s Office of Science has “generally complied with Recovery Act requirements, expended funds in a timely manner, and employed sound project management practices,” Friedman said.
Wood noted that the Recovery Act had the positive effect of shifting the accountability goals from fraud detection to fraud prevention. “Typically, when the goal of an initiative is fraud detection, IGs come to the table with a great deal of enthusiasm while agencies appear less motivated,” he said.
“One valuable lesson we have learned is that when the common goal is fraud prevention, agencies and IGs are equally enthusiastic,” he continued, “and a remarkable collaborative effort takes place between the two. As a result, the Recovery Board is piloting fraud-prevention tools with agency program personnel as well as OIGs.”
“Taxpayers have every right to know where and how their hard-earned dollars are being spent, and government officials must be held accountable,” Wood concluded.
Video of hearing
Back to Featured Stories