State, local education agencies flunk stimulus law transparency tests

GAO found only 9 percent of descriptions fully met transparency criteria

State and local government education agencies may not be able to meet the transparency demands of the economic stimulus law, according to a new report.

Education Department officials emphasized to federal auditors that it would be extremely difficult for many states to provide detailed information for each local education agency that received federal money, according to a GAO report released today.

Looking at three education programs that received $70.3 billion in stimulus money, GAO reviewed how well states that received funds did in meeting the law's transparency requirements. GAO found only 9 percent of the descriptions fully met its transparency criteria, such as clear and complete information on the award’s scope and status of the work.

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To help get the level of transparency needed for accountability under the law, recipients have to report quarterly on their award activities and expected outcomes.

For example, each prime recipient is required to submit information each quarter for more than 60 data elements for each stimulus law grant it receives. Because the law funded multiple grants to states, many were required to submit up to nine reports, totaling up to approximately 540 required data elements, GAO reported.

States with fewer grants did better at meeting the transparency requirements than states that received multiple grants, the report states.

Several state officials said the information for subrecipients in their reporting required additional resources and time. For example, Colorado officials told GAO that summarizing information from nearly 300 separate subrecipient reports was their biggest problem in compiling and reporting on the data.

Education officials agreed to work toward increasing the transparency of descriptions required by recipients while also balancing the reporting burden on states, the report states.


About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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