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House Committee Grills Stimulus Transparency Officials

 The House Oversight Committee is meeting today to talk about keeping stimulus spending clean. The committee is grilling government watchdogs on their plans for (and concerns about) imbuing stimulus projects with the "unprecedented level of accountability" described in the bill. 

Those plans are supposed to be greased by the latest Web technology, the public face of which is Recovery.gov. So it seems fitting that technical difficulties blocked the first hour of the committee's scheduled Webcast of the hearing. Here are the links to top watchdogs' prepared testimonies, for those who missed them.

One interesting theme from watchdog-in-chief Earl Devaney's earlier comments resurfaced in his testimony: He wants stimulus auditors and inspectors general to harken back to the Hurricane Katrina response as a model for their work, and a library of lessons learned. Though that episode in federal government history was swamped with fraud and abuse, the target-rich, multi-state environment offered IGs a chance to flex their muscles.

The hurricaine rebuilding effort "engaged 22 separate IG Offices, and has produced a number of 'lessons learned' that seem applicable to our current situation," Devaney said. "One of those 'lessons learned' was that there is a need to increase outreach, coordination and communication with the state and local audit community and to determine ways of improving data sharing."

An aide to the New Hampshire governor complained to Devaney last week that, even as state officials are being asked to take responsibility for accountability reporting and enforcement, those local leaders weren't being kept in the loop. For his part, Devaney said he's worried about what kind of data he'll be getting back from his state counterparts, and how he'll crunch it into a "user-friendly" format.

Rep. Aaron Schock, (R-IL), the first member of Congress to be born in the 1980s, pressed Devaney about those concerns today, asking whether all of the information that "we're requiring the state and local agencies to submit to the federal government will be posted on this Web site?"

"That's my theory," Devaney replied. Schock wanted to know what could keep that dream from being realized.

"I'm concerned about data quality," Devaney repeated. "It may be that we get the data in, but the data needs to be scrubbed and looked at with a fine tooth comb."

Devaney also took the opportunity to clear up any confusion over his role in stimulus oversight. He's officially the Chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (RAT!), but he told legislators today, "I'm going to act like an Inspector General."

 

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