GAO will review state plans for stimulus cash

Auditors for the Government Accountability Office will travel this month to the 16 states that combined would receive two-thirds of the funding authorized by the $787 billion economic stimulus law to review how the state governments plan to spend it, Acting Comptroller General Gene Dodaro said today.

Dodaro expects to report on that review in April, he said at the annual Federal Financial Management Conference. Federal agencies would distribute a large part of the stimulus money through their grant programs, he said. Under the stimulus law, GAO must conduct bimonthly reviews of the use of the funds by states and localities in selected areas and review reports by the recipients of the money, Dodaro said.

Under the law, agencies must post data about how they spend the money to the Obama administration’s Recovery.gov Web site and to the agency versions of Recovery.gov. States must also report information to their federal grant-makers and on state Recovery.gov sites about how they spent their funds.

However, states are finding it difficult to collect and report the data, Dodaro said.

“A number of state officials have written to OMB Director [Peter] Orszag and myself about having a working group on some of the reporting requirements, and we have initiated that” Dodaro said, adding that GAO would add reporting issues to its review.

The reporting will be a “stretch” for federal agencies and states, Dodaro said. “It’s very important that it be done properly,” he said.

The Office of Management and Budget last month issued guidance to agencies about reporting requirements and how to transmit them to Recovery.gov. Agencies began posting general stimulus information to the Recovery.gov sites March 5. They must have comprehensive plans in place by May 1, according to OMB. Some senior agency information officials have reported difficulties because their computer systems have not been configured to collect data, such as jobs created.

The transparency and accountability demanded under the economic stimulus law will set a pattern for the government in the future, said Ken Carfine, fiscal assistant secretary of the Treasury Department. Federal financial managers must be sure their financial and accounting systems can handle the type of detailed reporting required in the stimulus law, he said.

“I would expect that this trend is going to exist across the budget and across the government in the future. Agencies, Treasury included, must ensure that their financial accounting core systems of the future can meet this need,” Carfine said.

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