November 02, 2009, 6:41 AM — Presented with the reporting requirements of the economic stimulus program, Utah CIO Steve Fletcher recalls asking himself, "Do we really want to invest in a lot of gee-whiz software to do this?"
The answer was, and remains, a resounding no.
Instead, Fletcher and other Utah officials decided to build on a statewide spending transparency program and Web site already under development. That program, like the state's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act tracking and reporting tools, capitalizes on a centralized accounting system overseen by a centralized IT organization, which Fletcher says has made all the difference.
Four years ago, all IT services -- which were previously located in individual agencies -- were brought under a single statewide organization with one CIO. "Now we partner with the agencies to provide IT services," Fletcher says. "We have a single accounting system, a single IT organization, and we understand what the agencies' businesses are. It has helped us a lot to turn on a dime."
Earlier this year, Utah rolled out a state transparency Web site that includes every single transaction made by the state.
"You can search it, download it to a spreadsheet, sort it in different ways -- by account code, by organization and by individual," Fletcher says.
Rather than buying and implementing a separate software package for ARRA reporting and creating a separate ARRA Web site, Fletcher's team flagged ARRA-related expenditures in the state's existing central accounting system so they could be tracked and reported out as a separate entity on the state's original Web site.
"We decided not to really go huge on a [separate ARRA] Web site, but basically to transfer information and integrate it [on the state Web site] so it will be visually useful as well as functionally compliant," Fletcher explains.
There's still one hole: Under a federal requirement, the states also must report ARRA spending of "sub-recipients," like school districts and health care organizations, even when those sub-recipients received the money directly from the federal government.
"One of the problems with the way [some] funding is done is we have no clue about it, because the money doesn't go through the state. But we are still required to report on it," Fletcher says. "Any money that goes into the state has to be reported to the state, even though we have no [direct] knowledge of it."
So, how is the state coping with this requirement? "We have to coordinate with all of those entities the best we can," Fletcher says. "We have to reach out for reporting, and that remains a challenge."