Recovery Board’s Mike Wood Addresses the Once and Future Impact of Recovery.gov

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(This post originally appeared on the States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery blog).

During a May 4 webinar hosted by Government Executive, Recovery.gov Director Mike Wood shared some interesting thoughts about the lessons of the Recovery Board’s work and what the future holds for transparency in federal reporting.

Wood described the Recovery Act and Recovery.gov as a “sea change in the way the government has done business.”  At one point, he recounted how a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development told him that the agency “changed their whole management structure … based on how they ran their Recovery program.”  But for the most part, Wood stayed focused on the impact of the landmark website that he oversees.

In particular, he credited the level of transparency on Recovery.gov with the Recovery Act’s “very low non-compliance rate” and “extremely low” fraud rate.  “We will look at fraud after it occurs and try to recoup the money or bring people to justice, but it’s much more satisfying to prevent fraud,” Wood said, “and I think the fraud prevention efforts are much more successful because of our transparency efforts.”

Wood acknowledged that there have been fewer “citizen IGs” using the website to make “hotline complaints” than was initially hoped, although that could just be another sign that the Recovery Act has been largely free of fraud and abuse.  Still, he suggested that “as people get more used to” the types of accountability features on Recovery.gov, they might use them more frequently.

He also addressed the most pressing question raised by the Recovery.gov experience: what impact will the Recovery Board’s transparency and accountability efforts have on other forms of federal expenditures?

Wood explained that the Recovery Board created FederalTransparency.gov, a separate website that is initially tracking the $10 billion Education Jobs Fund, in part as “a tool to show that Recovery.gov can be used as a template” for future federal reporting.  Then, as the webinar came to a close, he struck a particularly optimistic tone about the prospects of enhanced federal reporting beyond the Recovery Act.

Although the Recovery Board sunsets in 2013, Wood said that Congress, the White House and the Inspectors General community have all expressed interest in “capturing these lessons that we’ve learned and continuing on with some of the good things that have happened” with Recovery.gov.  Among the proposals that should be on the table, in Wood’s view, are creating a broader Accountability and Transparency Board that is not limited to the Recovery Act and transferring Recovery.gov’s reporting and presentation technology to the Treasury Department.

We should know more in six months, he predicted.  “It’s not clear now what shape that will take, but there’s enough people in Washington talking about it that I think something will happen.”

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