Archive for January, 2012

PIRG Releases Report on TIF in Chicago as 3 Major Companies Return $34 million to Taxpayers

January 31, 2012

Chicago has long endured damage to its budget from Tax Increment Financing (TIF) chicanery. But with Mayor Rahm Emanuel pledging to take on TIF reform, change may be afoot. A new report released today by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) demands better transparency and accountability for TIF in Chicago. This includes incorporating TIF into the city’s budget process, linking spending to economic development plans instead of political patronage, requiring better outcomes, measuring outcomes, utilizing clawbacks for failure to meet benchmarks, and ending TIF districts once the economic development goal has been achieved. Much of what PIRG is asking echoes suggestions made by a panel appointed by Mayor Emanuel that studied the city’s TIF problems. Many of these recommendations have not yet been implemented.

In response to PIRG and other criticisms, Mayor Emanuel has pledged an improved transparency portal, better than the one we discussed last May, which was already a vast improvement.

And yesterday, to our surprise, recipients of major TIF subsidies have decided to return $34 million to the city. These recipients include the Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME), CNA Group and Bank of America. CME’s subsidies were enabled by a controversial new state law. It’s not clear exactly why these recipients are choosing this particular moment in time to return subsidies, but reports indicate that shortfalls on job creation pledges and negative publicity may have played a role.

With 10 percent of Chicago’s revenues tripped up in TIF spending, it is clear that Chicago needs more transparency and accountability on TIF.

Mapping Job Subsidies: Nearly 2,000 New Deals Ready for Mapping

January 31, 2012

As states increasingly bring economic development deals into the sunlight, they are increasingly also doing so in ways that allow users to map the geographic distributions of those subsidies. Of the 116,000 entries in our Subsidy Tracker database, nearly 33,000 deals in 16 states can now be mapped to an exact address, while about 55,000 deals can be mapped to the nearest city. With new data online and ready for mapping, especially unpublished data just obtained from the state of Massachusetts, we encourage our followers to take our data and make the most of it.

As those who follow Good Jobs First know, since 2000 we have issued several studies mapping the geographic distribution of company-specific economic development subsidy deals—and then analyzing them for their pro-sprawl bias.

We are proud of the methodology we pioneered in creating these studies and have freely given away our data and advice to others seeking to replicate the work. These studies were tedious: we obtained lists of subsidy deals using state Freedom of Information laws and then spent months either obtaining street addresses or cleaning up the addresses provided.

Improved state disclosure systems combined with our Subsidy Tracker tool have trimmed many of the difficulties from that process allowing citizens and journalists to analyze deals for a wide variety of issues: poverty, race, tax-base wealth, population density, whether the worksite is served by public transportation, whether jobs are being created in communities hardest hit by plant closings and mass layoffs, etc.

As more states put subsidy data online in a downloadable and mapping-friendly format, we will continue to grow Subsidy Tracker and mash up geographic data in new ways.

Let’s Attach “Green Strings” to Subsidies

January 25, 2012

The old plant-closing activist in me sat stunned tonight as President Obama must have set a record for the number of times the word “manufacturing” appeared in a State of The Union address.

One passage of his speech especially grabbed my attention: when the President suggested a new tax break to encourage manufacturers to retrofit and modernize to reduce their energy costs.

While I will wait to see the details on that one before opining, we at Good Jobs First believe that common state and local economic development subsidies should require that companies getting them build or retrofit to LEED standards or an equivalent (and not just manufacturers, but also retailers, office buildings, warehouses, etc.). After all, the payback period for retrofits is reportedly often quite short and the incremental cost of building new to LEED has declined (and therefore the payback period has also shrunk) as more contractors have mastered it.

In other words, attaching “green strings” to subsidies would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, reduce corporate energy bills, reduce U.S. dependence on foreign energy sources, and create lots of construction jobs and higher-value maintenance jobs – what’s not to like?

For more, see this article I wrote for Grist on the idea.

Subsidy Tracker Extends Its Reach

January 24, 2012

Subsidy Tracker, the Good Jobs First database of company-specific information on state and local economic development subsidies, has extended its geographic reach. Tracker now has some data from 45 states and the District of Columbia.

The latest states to be represented are Massachusetts, New Mexico and Wyoming, along with DC. We also added more data from Arizona, Maryland and Wisconsin. Tracker now contains information on more than 115,000 subsidy awards from 278 programs.

This new information was collected from a variety of sources. Maryland just posted a new online tool called Finance Tracker, which contains data on various tax credit, grant and loan programs from the past few years. With recipient address data (which assists in mapping) and download features, it is a big improvement on the PDF reports that used to be the state’s main form of disclosure. The tax credit listings, however, still lack amounts.

Wisconsin’s updated info comes from the less-than-elegant compilation of economic development awards posted by the state’s Commerce Department. The Arizona and Wyoming data come from PDF reports on single programs, while DC’s information is from its first Unified Economic Development Report (distributed in PDF form as well).

The Massachusetts and New Mexico data are unpublished. The info on the Massachusetts Economic Development Incentive Program was obtained through a public records request filed by MASSPIRG, which kindly agreed to share the results with us. The info on New Mexico’s Job Training Incentive Program was supplied directly by the state’s Economic Development Department.

The fact that a state is represented in Tracker does not mean that we have data on all of its subsidy programs. Our coverage of states varies greatly, depending on what has been posted online. Since we have captured everything of significance that is on the web, our focus now is on collecting more unpublished data – both from the five states not yet in Tracker (Arkansas, Kansas, Mississippi, Nevada and South Carolina) and on additional programs from the other 45 states.

Stay tuned as we continue our effort to drag every state subsidy program into the sunlight.

Report: States Lack Sound, Consistent Policies to Enforce Job-Creation and Other Performance Requirements in Economic Development Subsidy Programs

January 18, 2012

Despite the fact that many economic development deals fall short on job creation or other benefits, states are inconsistent in how they monitor, verify and enforce the terms of job subsidies. Many states fail to verify that companies receiving subsidies are meeting commitments, and many more have weak penalty policies for addressing non-compliance.

These are the findings of Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers: Clawbacks and Other Enforcement Safeguards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs, a study published today by Good Jobs First, a non-profit, non-partisan research center in Washington, DC. It is online at www.goodjobsfirst.org.

“It is not enough for states to have good job-creation and other performance requirements on paper in their subsidy programs; they must also enforce them diligently and consistently,” said Good Jobs First Executive Director Greg LeRoy. “Strong standards and strong enforcement are inseparable in making sure subsidy programs are not mere corporate giveaways,” added Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report.

Using a scoring system covering performance standards and enforcement, Money-Back Guarantees rates 238 programs in 50 states and the District of Columbia on a scale of 0 to 100. Other findings:

  • Ninety percent (215) of programs require companies to report on job creation or other outcomes. Yet in 31 percent of those programs, the agency doesn’t verify the data.
  • Three-quarters (178) of the programs use penalties such as recapture of benefits already provided (clawbacks) and the recalibration or termination of future subsidies. Penalty provisions in 84 programs are weakened by the fact that their implementation is discretionary or allows exceptions.
  • Only 21 programs publish aggregate enforcement data; 38 list non-compliant companies; 14 list penalized companies.
  • The states with the highest averages are Vermont (79) and North Carolina (76); the lowest: District of Columbia (4) and Alaska (19).

Recommendations:

  • Recipients should always be required to report on job creation and other benchmarks—and the data should be verified.
  • Agencies should penalize non-compliant recipients. Performance-based programs should operate without penalties only if recipients are required to fulfill all requirements before receiving subsidies.
  • Penalty systems should be not be weakened by exceptions or discretion on whether to implement them. Agencies should publish online data about enforcement.

Job Shortfalls Everywhere—So Who’s Watching the Store?

January 16, 2012

Today as America honors Dr. Martin Luther King, almost one in six African-American workers are officially unemployed. Let us remember: the full name of the 1963 event for which he is best remembered was The March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom (emphasis added).

Jobs are front and center today as well, as politicians justify economic development subsidies in the name of jobs, often while citing those suffering high unemployment. Yet we at Good Jobs First have been struck by the spate of journalistic investigations and state government reports finding that many subsidized deals are failing to deliver.

At a time when states are making painful budget cuts, they must be able to recoup taxpayer investments when deals fail. That’s why this Wednesday we will release Money-Back Guarantees for Taxpayers: Clawbacks and Other Enforcement Safeguards in State Economic Development Subsidy Programs. It is the largest study ever performed looking at whether states monitor and verify job-creation claims—and whether they can recapture, or claw back, subsidies when companies fail to create or retain as many jobs as promised.

Consider a sampling of recent job-shortfall news:

Alabama—The Birmingham News reported last winter that, after giving three large companies “wiggle room” on job shortfalls, the state or local governments clawed back money from Louisiana-Pacific, International Shipholding Corp., and U.S. Pipe and Foundry Co.

Connecticut—The state’s Department of Economic and Community Development’s 2010 annual report revealed that in 31 out of 70 audited business assistance contracts, companies failed to meet their job creation targets. The Department has not revealed whether it clawed back money from any of the 31 companies, and if so how much.

Florida—After reviewing data released by Florida officials on subsidy deals dating back to 1995, the Orlando Sentinel calculated three months ago that only about one‐third of the projected jobs had actually been created.

Georgia—The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last summer that four subsidized companies that either closed or laid off many workers had not been penalized, that “companies are rarely penalized,” and that the state’s revenue Department monitors outcomes but will not disclose any data about them. Summarizing what it could tell about $469 million in subsidies given out between 2003 and 2009, the AJC concluded: “taxpayers can’t gauge how effectively all the money has been spent, or whether the expenditures were even necessary.”

Illinois—The Chicago Tribune, using the state’s top-rated transparency website, reported last winter that, over nine years, companies awarded Illinois’ costly Economic Development in a Growing Economy (EDGE) tax credits were failing to qualify for them 52 percent of the time, and two-fifths of the projects never qualified for any credits. And as we blogged earlier this month, the state legislature and Gov. Pat Quinn were jolted in December when they gave Sears a massive new tax break to retain its headquarters—and days later, the chain announced more financial losses and more than 100 store closures, putting a cloud over the Illinois jobs.

Indiana—WTHR-TV’s 13 Investigates unit looked into Gov. Mitch Daniel’s claim of 100,000 jobs starting in late 2010. In its much-honored “Reality Check: Where are the Jobs” series, it exposed deals that never broke ground and others that fell far short on jobs or failed altogether. The series provoked the state’s privatized economic development agency to commission an audit of almost 600 deals which found so few jobs that WTHR concluded only 38 percent of the claimed jobs had so far materialized.

Iowa—An investigation by Des Moines Register two months ago found a sharp increase in the number of Iowa companies failing to deliver on subsidized jobs. As many companies had defaulted on tax credit contracts in the most recent fiscal year as the previous three years combined, it found. It also found that the state’s recoupment and renegotiation activity was up.

Massachusetts—A large Boston Globe investigation last winter looked into 1,300 subsidy projects, large and small, that had promised to create jobs. “Hundreds of the projects delivered fewer jobs than promised, and some companies actually slashed employment. Many firms won subsidies for projects they were set to build without state assistance; in some cases, incentives that were approved long after the projects were underway or complete. And many got generous packages though they agreed to create only a handful of low-paying jobs.”

Minnesota—An investigation by The Minneapolis Star Tribune last winter found that that one‐fifth of the companies receiving subsidies in the Gopher State from 2004 through 2009 did not meet their hiring commitments.

Missouri—The Kansas City Star earlier this month examined 91 projects over six years in the state’s Quality Jobs Program. While acknowledging that some deals take years to pan out and that little of the awarded $311 million had been paid out yet, it found that about five out of six deals had not yet met their job goals and total job creation was only one fourth of the projected total.

New Jersey—An independent consultant’s evaluation of the state’s big-ticket Urban Enterprise Program last winter found such poor results that that taxpayers got back only eight cents per dollar invested. It called the program “bureaucratically cumbersome and costly to operate,” and said it “has yielded inconsistent and uncertain quantifiable results in terms of business expansion and job creation in the State’s urban areas.”

New York—The Alliance for a Greater New York (ALIGN) reported two months ago that 274 projects subsidized by Industrial Development Agencies around the state had failed by the time the projects ended in 2009. Instead of creating 21,113 jobs, the companies lost 4,957 jobs. Another 11,000 jobs were lost at firms subsidized for job retention.

North Carolina—The Charlotte News & Observer reported last month that more than 30 percent of the state’s 139 Job Development Investment Grants have been withdrawn or terminated due to lack of promised jobs or investment.

Ohio—Attorney General Mike DeWine issued a report three weeks ago that revealed 48 percent of subsidized companies had failed to meet their pledges for job creation, job retention, or other performance requirements. It named 200 shortfall companies that had received grants, tax credit awards or other subsidies totaling more than $82 million. Clawback details were mixed. And as Good Jobs First detailed in a report last July, the quality of Buckeye State disclosure has been deteriorating, making it harder for taxpayers to track outcomes.

Rhode Island—The Providence Journal reported last summer that for two years in a row, the state has issued a report required by an accountability law, but leaving out job-creation numbers. The state filings detail costs—$127 million given out over three years—but leave out the benefits. Both state reports also failed to include an independent analysis of program effectiveness that is required by the accountability law, reported ProJo.

South Carolina—The Associated Press (headline: “SC gov using inflated job list in employment boast) incurred the wrath of Gov. Nikki Haley when it reported last summer that her commerce agency provided four different job-creation totals—and that some of the listed jobs did not result from any state aid. As well, one large group (750 more jobs at an Amazon warehouse) resulted from a tax-break deal the state legislature enacted over her opposition. Separately, the Greenville News reported last May that the state had clawed back only twice in five years (and one was initiated voluntarily by Michelin).

Texas—Texans for Public Justice last fall examined 115 deals of the state’s controversial Texas Enterprise Fund (TEF) program. Among 65 projects in 2010, it found most were non-performing (37 percent), terminated (17 percent), troubled (11 percent, usually due to job shortfalls), exhibited fraud (8 percent, including some of the program’s largest grants that had deceptive job claims), or weak (2 percent, for claiming jobs that predated the TEF contract).

Wisconsin—An investigation by Gannett last November found that 40 percent of companies in Wisconsin that completed job‐creation tax credit contracts during the past five years failed to hire as many people as they had promised.

So many failed deals beg the question: are cash-strapped states watching the store? Are they able to recover money from non-performing companies?

For the answers, stay tuned this Wednesday!

Romney Bites the Government Hand that Feeds His Fortune

January 13, 2012

Occupy Wall Street may be getting less attention in the corporate media these days, but the movement’s message about the brutal and inequitable nature of contemporary U.S. business is front and center in an unlikely arena: the debate among the Republican contenders.

In recent days, Newt Gingrich and Rick Perry have assailed the business track record of Mitt Romney, using terms such as “vulture capitalism,” “looting” and “job killing” to describe his activities at buyout firm Bain Capital in the 1980s and 1990s.

Showing how frustrated personal ambition can outweigh ideology, Gingrich and Perry are espousing views far from their usual postures. It is the hypocrisy of frontrunner Romney, however, that is of greater significance. While being attacked from the faux Left by Gingrich and Perry, Romney has been veering to the Right. In his victory speech after the New Hampshire primary, he attacked President Obama for supposedly promoting “the politics of envy” and “resentment of success.” Channeling Ronald Reagan, he vowed that “the path I lay out is not one paved with ever increasing government checks and cradle-to-grave assurances that government will always be the answer.”

Yet a look at Romney’s record at Bain shows not only Gordon Gekko-like business buccaneering, but also a willingness to embrace those very government checks and assurances he is now repudiating. Companies acquired and managed by Bain during Romney’s tenure showed no hesitation in taking taxpayer handouts in the form of state and local economic development subsidies.

A comparison of the 1999 Bain portfolio obtained by the Los Angeles Times to the information in the Subsidy Tracker database my colleagues and I at Good Jobs First created (as well as other sources), yields examples such as the following:

Steel Dynamics Inc. In 1994 this company, among whose financial backers at the time was Bain, got a $77 million subsidy package—including grants, property tax abatements, tax credits and reimbursement for training costs—for its steel mill in DeKalb County, Indiana (Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, June 23, 1994).

GS Industries. In 1996 American Iron Reduction LLC, a joint venture of GS Industries (which had been taken private by Bain in 1993) and Birmingham Steel, sought some $20 million in tax breaks in connection with its plan to build a plant in Louisiana’s St. James Parish (Baton Rouge Advocate, April 6, 1996). As the United Steelworkers union noted recently, GS Industries later applied for a federal loan guarantee, but before the deal could be implemented the company went bankrupt.

Sealy. A year after the 1997 buyout of this leading mattress company by Bain and other private equity firms, Sealy received $600,000 from state and local authorities in North Carolina to move its corporate offices, a research center and a manufacturing plant from Ohio (Greensboro News & Record, March 31, 1998). In 2004 Bain and its partners sold Sealy to another private equity group.

GT Bicycles. In 1997 GT, then owned by Bain and other investors, decided to move its manufacturing operations to an enterprise zone in Santa Ana, California. Being in the zone gave the company, which was later purchased by Schwinn, special tax credits relating to hiring and the purchase of equipment (Orange County Register, July 9, 1999).

Since Romney arranged to share in Bain’s profits after he left the firm in 1999, it is legitimate to look at cases of subsidy grabbing by Bain companies after that time. Some of these involved firms that had been acquired during Romney’s tenure but which didn’t get their subsidies until after he departed. For example:

Stream International. In 2000, this operator of call centers, then controlled by Bain, agreed to open a facility in Kalispell, Montana, but only if local officials provided $4 million in grants and tax breaks (The Missoulian, February 8, 2000). U.S. Senator Max Baucus also arranged for a $500,000 grant from the federal Economic Development Administration (AP, March 4, 2000). Later that year, Stream got Silver City, New Mexico to provide tax credits, subsidized training and subsidized rent for another call center (Albuquerque Tribune, July 12, 2000).

Alliance Laundry Systems. In 2000 this maker of washing machines, purchased by Bain in 1998, received a $560,000 grant from the state of Florida in connection with its plan to move a commercial laundry from Cincinnati. (Tallahassee Democrat, June 8, 2000). In 2004 the company received $1.25 million in assistance (including a low-cost loan of $1 million and a $250,000 grant) from the state of Wisconsin. Bain sold the company to a Canadian pension fund in 2005.

Romney’s ongoing profit participation also makes it legitimate to look at subsidies that have gone to companies acquired by Bain after Romney moved into public life:

Burger King Corporation.  In 2005—while owned by Bain, TPG and Goldman Sachs—Burger King let it be known that it was considering moving its headquarters from the Miami area to Houston. After local and state officials put together a $9 million subsidy package, the company agreed to stay in South Florida but move to a new building.  Two years later, Burger King dropped the idea of a new headquarters altogether and had to repay $3 million of the package (which came from a Quick Action Closing Fund grant) to the state as a result. Bain and its partners sold off their remaining interest in Burger King in 2010.

Quintiles Transnational Corp. When Bain and other private equity firms bought this pharmaceutical services company in 2007 they inherited a $25 million subsidy package that the company had negotiated with North Carolina officials in 2006. The package included an up-front $2 million grant from the One North Carolina Fund, a $2 million matching grant from Durham County, and the promise of up to $21.4 million over 12 years from a performance-based Job Development Investment Grant.

AMC Entertainment. After being promised more than $40 million in subsidies, this movie chain (bought in 2004 by Bain and other private equity firms) agreed to move its headquarters from downtown Kansas City, Missouri to a nearby suburb across the state line in Kansas. The deal was criticized as an egregious case of taxpayer-financed sprawl.

And finally, what about Staples, whose early backing by Bain is frequently cited by Romney as the best example of his business acumen? The chain has long been making use of economic development subsidies, including the period when Romney was still at Bain. In 1996, for example, it chose Hagerstown, Maryland as the site for a distribution center after getting a $4.2 million subsidy package (Baltimore Sun, April 16, 1996).

It’s quite possible that Romney’s recent anti-government comments, like much of what he says, are not meant to be taken too seriously. But as long as he is spouting free-market rhetoric, he needs to be reminded about the extent to which his ascent (and that of the rest of the 1% ) has been propelled by public money.

Re-posted from the Dirt Diggers Digest

Sears, Tax Breaks, and Job Loss: Like We Said

January 5, 2012
Image

Credit: Made available through a creative commons license from Flickr user gardener41

For the latest evidence that unaccountable tax breaks fail to promote investment for job creation, shop at Sears—while you still can.

Gov. Pat Quinn’s signature had barely dried on the Illinois legislature’s lavish new tax-break deal to retain Sears Holding Corp.’s headquarters when the company announced store closures and layoffs. The deal, valued at up to $275 million in property and income tax breaks, was signed into law on December 16. Yet on December 27, the company announced that it would close between 100 and 120 Kmart and Sears stores.

Cynically, we note that the initial list of 80 closures does not include any Illinois stores, nor have any headquarters layoffs been announced… yet. But with Sears still losing market share, and reporting another decline in same-store sales (down 5.2% late 2011 over late 2010), how safe can Illinois jobs be?

We hate to say we told Illinois so. But as we forecast in our blog of last August: when a company is ailing and it asks for a tax break, the wisdom of the plant-closings movement tells us: tax avoidance can be one form of disinvestment, another early warning sign of job loss.

Put another way: if a company doesn’t see a future in the community or the state, why should it keep investing in the schools or roads or universities?

Indeed, inadequate reinvestment in Sears has been a major theme since hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert took control of the company. As the New York Times’ Floyd Norris pointed out in a December 29 column, between February 2005 and October 2011, Sears Holdings spent only $3.2 billion on capital expenditures (i.e., physical improvements) while taking $6.6 billion in depreciation charges (i.e., physical wearing-out).

A consumer behavior consultant with America’s Research Group told the Los Angeles Times: “They are not fixing their problems. The Sears apparel strategy is still not what the Sears customer wants. They have not spent the money to refurbish their stores to make the modern and contemporary for the under-35 shopper.”

Instead of reinvesting, Sears Holdings is reportedly soon to allow some its prize jewels, such as Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools, to be sold by other chains such as Costco and Ace Hardware. Won’t that just further reduce traffic into Sears and Kmarts?

In lowering Sears Holdings’ credit rating, Fitch warned of “a heightened risk of restructuring over the next 24 months.”

Meanwhile, Illinois taxpayers, after giving Sears a retention package worth about $178 million in 1989 when it threatened to run away, have pledged up to $275 million more after a second runaway threat.

Fool me once, shame on you…

New Year Brings New Recovery Board Chair

January 4, 2012

By Andrew Seifter, Good Jobs First

President Obama has appointed Kathleen S. Tighe, Inspector General of the Department of Education, as the new chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.  Tighe replaces Earl Devaney, who held the post since the Recovery Act was enacted in February 2009, but announced last month that he was retiring.

As an existing member of the Recovery Board (which consists of cabinet agency Inspectors General), Tighe has demonstrated a strong record of cracking down on fraud and misuse of government funds, so she is a logical, if conventional, choice to replace Devaney.  In a press release announcing her appointment, the Recovery Board highlighted several instances in which Tighe helped win settlements or convictions against fraudulent companies or individuals, including a former City University of New York employee who was convicted for trying to “scam more than $1.5 million in Re­covery Act grant funds.”  According to Tighe’s November 2011 Report to Congress, the case involved a former employee at the University’s Research Foundation who had presented two fraudulent Grant Award Notifications that were discovered by an official who had recently participated in a Recovery Act grant fraud awareness training provided by Tighe’s office.

Tighe also continues to serve as a member of the Government Accountability and Transparency (GAT) Board, suggesting that she will remain a critical player in ongoing efforts to transfer the accountability measures of the Recovery Act to all federal spending.  The GAT Board has been active of late, issuing three key recommendations to the President in December.

As I surmised from reading Devaney’s resignation letter and his final Recovery.gov “Chairman’s Corner” column, one of the GAT Board recommendations is for a uniform ID system for all federal spending projects.  The Board wisely suggests that in pursuing this goal the government incorporate standardization efforts already underway at the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council and the Treasury Department.  The other recommendations are somewhat broader: adopt a “cohesive, centralized accountability framework” to track spending, and reevaluate the methods the government employs to collect and display data.

The GAT Board mentioned one benefit of data standardization, in particular, that got our attention at Good Jobs First: it would “foster a common understanding of data between the Federal Government and the states, which are the largest recipients of Federal funds.”  We’d consider that a huge step forward for spending transparency, based on our experience tracking the Recovery Act.  Although the Stimulus has pushed the states toward improved disclosure, all too often certain information about both spending and outcomes (such as job impact) has been lost in translation as money moved from the federal government to state agencies that then passed it on to local recipients.

We also strongly support the GAT Board in urging the government to “stay on the cutting edge” by constantly exploring ways to make use of advances in technology such as geospatial services.  We’ve seen for ourselves that the possibilities in this regard are far greater than they were years, even months ago.  As the state of technology continues to improve, the bar for transparency must continue to rise.

Many of the GAT Board’s observations and recommendations are a direct result of the Recovery Act, and not just because it provided a powerful model for tracking billions of dollars of government funds.  The Recovery Act also moved the conversation forward by highlighting the limitations of the current system.

For example, the Recovery Act has pressed federal agencies to improve their internal reporting procedures and address problems with existing protocols.  As Recovery Board member and Department of Commerce IG Todd J. Zinser said in November 30 testimony to the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, the Commerce Department met Recovery Act reporting requirements, but only by “performing many manual procedures to compensate for grant and contract system inadequacies.”  Zinser’s remarks bring to mind Recovery.gov Director Mike Wood’s comment last spring that a Deputy Secretary at the Department of Housing and Urban Development told him that HUD “changed their whole management structure … based on how they ran their Recovery program.”


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