Another big problem is the lack of a central accounting system in most states, which have had to first devise ways of extracting and aggregating data from multiple systems across hundreds of agencies before rolling it up to report it to the federal government.
Like so many of the energy and construction projects launched with stimulus dollars, tracking and reporting systems remain works in progress.
In Missouri, one of a handful of states to have a central accounting system used across all state agencies, funding and budgeting data is relatively easy to access. What remains difficult to grasp, however, is precisely what the federal government wants to know, says CIO Bill Bryan.
Two data points the feds want to track are job creation and retention under the economic stimulus program. "But the definition and requirements for how to count jobs is quite a challenge to understand," according to Marilyn Gerard-Hartman, director of enterprise applications for Missouri.
For example, if the state awards a highway infrastructure project to a contractor who in turn hires a subcontractor, who in turn hires other subcontractors, "how far down the chain is the state responsible for tracking? And do you only count it as a job created if the job wouldn't have existed without the ARRA funding?"
Generally, "it hasn't been clear what the requirements are until fairly late in the game," adds Bryan.
Meanwhile, fulfilling the requirements to the letter of the federal law is critical, Bryan notes. "If you don't comply, you could get thrown under the bus and not get any further funding."
"One of the biggest challenges is just the speed at which we had to get things done," says Iowa's Gillespie. "The rules for the most part didn't get finalized literally until weeks -- not months -- ago. Just keeping up has been the biggest challenge."
Rather than licensing commercial stimulus-tracking tools, Gillespie's team internally developed a tracking and reporting system "using tools already familiar to financial folks who have all the data in Excel spreadsheets," he explains. The data is imported into a database, where it is aggregated, extracted and converted to an XML-formatted report and submitted online to the federal government.
First things first
But before IT could build the tracking system, "we actually had to build a Web-based application to give people a way to submit data to us," Gillespie explains.
Stimulus reporting: The basics