The United States faces what http://www.recovery.gov calls “a crisis unlike any since the Great Depression.” To combat this crisis, the government has come up with The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) said in his written statement for a hearing of this committee that “while we understand that our economy needs a jolt, we want to make sure that every dollar of the $500 billion the Recovery Act targets for spending on projects and programs will be used to restart the economy with not a penny lost, wasted or stolen.”
At the hearing the Honorable Robert L. Nabors II, Deputy Director of the Office of Management and Budget, said, “We are in a deep recession, which threatens to be more severe than any since the Great Depression. More than three and a half million jobs were lost over the past 13 months, more than at any time since World War II. And GDP declined at an annual rate of 6.2 percent in the fourth quarter of the last year—the highest rate in over 25 years.”
He says, “First, for the Recovery Act to have the desired effect, funds must reach recipients quickly.” His second point is that “it is essential that funds be spent wisely at all levels of government, and in a way that maintains the confidence of the public.” He asserts, “No one should doubt the importance of the Recovery Act in creating jobs, restoring public confidence in our economy, and putting our nation back on track. Nor should anyone doubt the importance of implementing this Act as efficiently, transparently, and effectively as possible. The American people have put their faith and confidence in us—their government—to take on a challenge too big for any other entity to tackle.”
Gene L. Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the U.S. Government Accountability Office, lists the responsibilities of the various members of the board named in the Recovery Act: “The Recovery Act delineates an important set of responsibilities for the accountability community. GAO is charged with reviewing the use of funds by selected states and localities. IGs [Inspector Generals] across government are expected to audit the efforts of federal agencies’ operations and programs related to the Recovery Act, both individually within their particular entities and collectively, as many of them are members of the Board. The Recovery Act established the Board to help prevent waste, fraud, and abuse. The Board is to review contracts and grants to ensure they meet applicable standards, follow competition requirements, and are overseen by sufficient numbers of trained acquisition and grants personnel. The Board has a range of authorities and is charged with reporting to the President and Congress any potential problems requiring immediate attention in addition to reporting quarterly and annually.”
The Honorable Phyllis K. Fong, Inspector General, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Chair of the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, was the third witness at the hearing. She explains in her written testimony, “The Recovery Act creates new responsibilities for Federal IGs in three main areas: oversight of agency stimulus-funded programs, participation on the new oversight accountability board, and investigations of whistleblower complaints.” In explaining how Federal IGs will carry out these responsibilities, she says, “We will focus on key elements such as whether USDA agency officials have established proper internal control procedures and compliance operations, as well as review whether participants in stimulus-related programs meet eligibility guidelines. OIG’s audit work will be conducted in multiple phases based on USDA’s Recovery Act activities and expenditures.” She goes on to say, “Our investigative efforts for the Recovery Act will emphasize preventing and identifying fraud; initiating timely investigations when potential criminal activity occurs; and responding to the new sources of whistleblower complaints according to the Act’s benchmarks. Thereafter, Investigations will work with U.S. Attorneys and States Attorney General Offices to prosecute violators and seek asset forfeiture when appropriate.”
Thus far, reform efforts pushed through a Democratic Congress by the Obama Administration have engendered curious reactions. In a vignette captured by Jim Lehrer on the PBS, Vice-President Joe Biden recently amused city and county officials visiting the capital when he told them, “Because of the rules, the president and I can’t stop you from doing some things, but I’ll show up in your city and say, ‘This was a stupid idea.’”
“You think I’m kidding?” the Vice-President said as the crowd giggled. “This is the only part the president was right about: Don’t mess with Joe, because I mean it. I’m serious, guys. I’m serious. I’m absolutely serious.”
Perhaps the Vice-President will visit Pawtucket. “In this city burdened with one of Rhode Island’s highest home foreclosure rates and a $10-million current-year budget deficit, $550,000 in federal stimulus money is coming to build a skateboarding park and renovate tennis and basketball courts at Jenks Junior High School,” Michael P. McKinney reported on March 17, 2009 in The Providence Journal.
“Over the next ten years, President Obama has proposed deficits that remain above $500 billion every year, rising to $712 billion by 2019 – doubling our national debt over the same period of time,” the Republicans on the U. S. House Budget Committee observed on March 5, 2009. “And the President’s estimates are based on more ‘optimistic’ assumptions of the health of our national economy.”
“Using the same logic President Obama has used to ‘stress test’ the stability of financial institutions—the President’s actual deficits could be more than $1 trillion HIGHER over the next five years.”