Happy Birthday, Recovery Act!

February 17, 2012 | By Adrianne Fielding | Post a Comment

Three years ago today, President Obama signed the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 – otherwise known as the stimulus bill, the Recovery Act or ARRA – into law. And the opinions about it have been flying almost every day since then. Should it have been done at all? Was it too much? Too little? Too late (in terms of how long it’s taken to get the money to award recipients and into the economy)?

Regardless of where you stand on the value of ARRA as an economy-boosting policy, it’d be a stretch for anyone to seriously make the case that it has been anything but good in terms of how federal grants are administered.

A couple of years prior to the passage of ARRA, the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 (FFATA) mandated the creation of a free and publicly searchable website of federal award information. FFATA was an important development in the world of federal grants management, signaling new emphasis on public visibility into federal awards (“transparency”) and shared responsibility on the part of funding agencies and awardees into how those awards were being spent (“accountability”).

So the implementation of FFATA was trundling along, including a delayed and smaller-than-intended pilot for adding information about subawards that raised all sorts of questions around data collection, reporting and how many tiers of subawards ought to be included … and then there started to be murmurings about the possibility of a massive stimulus bill that would quickly push out billions of dollars in federal awards in an attempt to jumpstart the sagging economy.

The result was ARRA, which from the perspective of federal award transparency and accountability, has been like FFATA on steroids. It amped up — and I think, has forever changed — the expectations surrounding the management and reporting on federal grants. It begat new requirements for awardees to report on their awards, the creation and implementation of new systems for agencies to receive that information (FederalReporting.gov), new ways for the public to see detailed information about those awards (Recovery.gov) and new guidance/governance/oversight to the federal agencies issuing awards (the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board).

These developments have allowed the government to make unprecedented strides in reducing “waste, fraud and abuse” (one of the new favorite catchphrases in the world of government spending) and otherwise improve the management of federal grant dollars — which are, after all, crowdsourced from taxpayers.

That’s the rare goal that painfully divided politicians and voters alike can get behind. I consider myself privileged to have been involved in the implementation of one of the Recovery Act’s major programs,  to know some of the folks involved with the Recovery Board’s impressive efforts, and to have witnessed firsthand some of the bipartisan gushing over ARRA’s successes.

Grants management and reporting will never be the same, and that’s worth celebrating. So here – have some cake.

(Photo credit: Adrianne Fielding)


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