States scramble to track federal stimulus bucks

By , Computerworld |  Government, economic stimulus

More than two-dozen federal agencies have been allocated a portion of the $787 billion in stimulus money. Each federal agency develops specific plans for its share, then awards grants and contracts to state governments or, in some cases, directly to schools, hospitals, contractors or other organizations. The federal agencies are required to file weekly financial reports on how they're spending the money and their specific activities involving ARRA funds.

Last month, states and other grant recipients for the first time filed the quarterly spending reports required under the law.

The executive branch has worked hard to ensure a smooth reporting operation, according to Rob Nabors, director of the federal Office of Management and Budget.

As Nabors puts it: "Between OMB and the vice president's office and others in the White House and out in the agencies, we've done 169 different conference calls with recipients. There've been 170 events with state officials. We've had 37 different events with local government officials. There have been seven White House forums, and there've been 20 separate Recovery Act reporting training sessions. That by itself is an unprecedented effort by the federal government to make sure that we get it right, and this was something that started all the way back in February."

-- Julia King

All of this was done in a matter of weeks by a small team comprising a designer-architect, a programmer and a project manager who is the chief liaison between IT and the state's stimulus office. The team already had some experience from working on the state's recovery Web site, which Gillespie says has "been kind of an iterative process that has been going on since the first recovery money came out."

He chalks up the speedy rate of progress on both projects to what he describes as healthy competition among states to have good reporting and great Web sites. "We wanted to be better than everybody else," he says.

But given the fierce push to quickly distribute ARRA funds and get new projects up and running, traditional IT project management practices, such as having a comprehensive set of user requirements, have in some cases gone out the window.

In Missouri, for example, a team was in the midst of implementing Microsoft Corp.'s Stimulus360 software for tracking funding and projects when the feds issued a change in data models for reporting.

"We had to move forward with plans and put things in place even though you knew [more] changes were coming," says Gerard-Hartman.

Like a start-up

At the newly formed Massachusetts Recovery and Reinvestment Office, Deputy Director Ramesh Advani likens the fast pace and deadline-driven atmosphere and culture to the environment of a start-up company.

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