Welcome. . .

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The blog that begins today in this space is our effort to help to fill in some of those blanks – and also to provide an opportunity for discussions of a variety of other interesting, stimulus-related news and observations.

There is a mammoth amount of information available about states and localities and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. That’s no surprise. About $280 billion (of the $862 billion total) flows to and through the states for schools, higher education, incentive grants, Medicaid, highways, mass transit, economic development and more. This is the biggest influx of unanticipated money to hit state and local budgets in the history of the Union.

The vast majority of the coverage of the stimulus act, however, has gone to detailed information about the dollars spent, including who is getting them, what’s being done with them and what kinds of controls the states have in place. The Government Accountability Office has focused on these areas, as have most of the state websites devoted to providing details about the stimulus package.

Yet, while swimming in a sea of data, there appears to be a significant hunger among people both inside and outside of state government for material about the actual outcomes of the dollars spent. Did they actually improve services? Did they permit service to remain at acceptable levels? Did they succeed in sparking innovations that will lead to long-term savings? How?

As Mike Pagano, dean of the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs at the University of Illinois in Chicago told us, “We need to see the ‘impact’ or ‘outcomes’ of ARRA investment and not just the ‘inputs’ or ‘outputs.”

Stan Czerwinski, one of the GAO’s leading experts about the stimulus, agrees. We had a good conversation with him about this, and his major point was this. The Recovery Act has multiple dimensions, “yet it’s always about jobs, jobs, jobs. And jobs aren’t what it’s really about in a lot of cases. . . .There isn’t a lot of what we’d call outcome measurement happening yet. In some respects that’s interesting and in other respects it’s frustrating.”

Of course, there’s every reason to be sympathetic to the men and women in the federal government and the states, on this front. They’ve been assigned a mammoth task of following the money and have been, sensibly, focused on looking at oversight and accountability. Still, a key point made in a major report published by the GAO, in December, highlights the road of the future: “Reporting on Recovery Act performance results is broader than the employment-related reporting required by the act. We continue to recommend that the Director of OMB—perhaps through the Senior Management Councils—clarify what other program performance measures recipients are expected to report on to demonstrate the impact of Recovery Act funding.”

The blog that begins today in this space is our effort to help to fill in some of those blanks – and also to provide an opportunity for discussions of a variety of other interesting, stimulus-related news and observations. Please let us know what you think. This is new territory for everybody, and we all have a lot to learn from one another.

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