Friday, March 20, 2009

Stimulus Show-and-Tell Starts

State by state, the Recovery Scoreboard is lighting up with projects to be funded by some of the $787 billion Congress passed last month to get the economy moving again.

Just keeping track of the money, let alone spending it wisely, is going to be a monumental job as governors appoint overseeing groups and, in some cases, "czars" to make sure the money is not fraudulently or stupidly spent.

The web site is getting almost 4,000 hits a second, according to the chairman of the federal Transparency and Accountability Board, but it's not clear how many of the viewers are concerned citizens or job seekers looking to get to the money tap.

Residents of every state can click on the interactive map and get, along with a self-puffing picture and message from their governor, a breakdown, with varying degrees of detail, on the projects about to get going in their area.

State officials are under pressure to move projects fast and efficiently. As Vice President Joe Biden warned them at a Washington meeting this week:

"Six months from now, if the verdict on this effort is that we've wasted the money, we built things that were unnecessary, or we've done things that are legal but make no sense, then, folks, don't look for any help from the federal government for a long while."

Politics, of course, is part of the picture, as 2012 presidential hopefuls like Govs. Mark Sanford of South Carolina and Alaska's Sarah Palin righteously turn down part (but far from all) of the federal funds.

Their conservative grandstanding may go down well in future primaries, but they may have to take some flak meanwhile from their own residents watching them throw the money back at Washington.

Uodate: The New York Times reports: "President Obama issued a directive on Friday requiring lobbyists to make their requests in writing about the projects they believe should be awarded from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill, saying the plan 'will not be an excuse for waste and abuse.'

"In a speech to state lawmakers here, Mr. Obama outlined what he called 'unprecedented restrictions' to increase the transparency on how the government spends money on projects to boost the economy and create jobs. The conversations between federal lobbyists and his administration, he said, would be disclosed on the Internet.

“'Whenever a project comes up for review, we’re going to ask a simple question,' Mr. Obama said. 'Does it advance the core mission of the Recovery Act? Does it jump-start job creation? Does it lay the foundation for lasting prosperity?'”

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