Lessons Learned from the Recovery Act? Still To Be Determined

February 7, 2014 | By Jerry Ashworth | Post a Comment

washington-dc-1104221-mWhen it was made into law in 2009, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offered a bold response to the nation’s growing recession, infusing federal funds at an aggressive pace to help the country attempt to get back on its fiscal feet. About $219 billion in grant funds were distributed to states and localities across a broad range of areas including education, transportation, energy, health care and housing.

With all the Recovery Act funds now appropriated, the Government Accountability Office has taken a look back to determine how well it achieved its goal of accountability and transparency. In a recent report, GAO noted that the Recovery Act set high expectations for the accountability and transparency of those funds as federal agencies quickly disbursed them. GAO praised the oversight community for adopting a faster and more flexible approach to how they conducted and reported on their audits and reviews so that their findings could inform programs of needed corrections before all Recovery Act funds were spent. Using technology through the Recovery Operations Center, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board used advanced data analytics to reduce fraud, waste and abuse. Also, the creation of Recovery.gov enabled the public to see where the funds were spent.

However, GAO wasn’t completely satisfied. “One question that remains unresolved is the extent to which good practices developed in response to the Recovery Act’s special challenges and conditions can ultimately be incorporated in everyday practices for managing and overseeing grants,” it said in the report. “Still to be seen is whether it will be possible to provide this type of governmentwide transparency to other measures of performance, such as grant outcomes.”

I remember when I first read the provisions in the Recovery Act back in 2009, I shook my head in doubt that the provisions in the act could be achieved. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised that it worked as well as it did. Was it perfect? Not exactly, but it definitely raised the bar for the future of grants management. Until all Recovery Act funds are finally spent, I’ll reserve my right to give a final grade to the Recovery Act. However, it’s definitely higher than I would have expected if you had asked me this question five years ago.

What are your reflections on the Recovery Act? Was it worth it? Let us know.

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