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Will We Be Able to Follow the Money?

Recovery.govWill -- the oversight Web site promised in the stimulus bill -- really give the public enough information about how their money is spent?

While the stimulus package passed by the House of Representatives earlier today lays out some public reporting requirements, it also leaves some wiggle room. And that's what worries some transparency advocates.

Any direct recipient of stimulus funds must give the agencies they've received funds from details about their projects. Then agencies, in turn, have to make those details public. But the bill doesn't clearly define how states and other recipients of the money will have to report information.

"These could be pdfs on and that wouldn't be the kind of transparency that we would urge there being," said Sean Moulton, director of federal information policy for OMB Watch. "We wanted a strong requirement on the government to establish a standard reporting system. So you're not getting 50 different structures."

When it comes to federal money, the stimulus legislation is more specific. The plans build on the structure of, a site that already tracks federal money. Under the stimulus, more information must be posted, such as job creation and how money passed down from one entity to another is spent.

Another concern, Moulton said, is when states pay for projects or programs with a mix of stimulus funds and other money from their coffers.

"That's a tough nut to crack," he said. Moulton's OMB Watch's site was the model for the In some cases, states may lack the mechanism for segregating funds to that level.

President Barack Obama has pitched as a tool for citizens to track details about how money is spent in their communities. Stay tuned, we'll continue track how the site delivers.

Here are the transparency provisions:

TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Requires quarterly reports on amount of funds received and spended, a detailed list of all projects, completion status, an estimate of jobs retained or created for each project and the rationale for using recovery funds.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Requires reporting of all subcontracts over $25,000.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Requires that the quarterly reports be posted within 30 days of the end of each quarter.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Requires quarterly reports by the Council of Economic Advisers detailing the economic impact of the program.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Establishes the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board to conduct oversight and prevent waste, fraud and abuse. It will be headed by the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget or a presidential appointee approved by the Senate. Members include the inspectors general of Agriculture, Commerce, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security, Justice, Transportation, Treasury and Tax Administration.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Creates a Web site within 30 days of enactment of the act wheere the government will provide data on economic, financial, grant and contract information in "user-friendly visual presentations." It will provide detailed data on contracts awarded by the federal government that are over $25,000. It will provide monthly reports on funds given to each state and congressional district.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Requires Web site to provide links to job listings created by the act.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Establishes an independent advisory panel to the board, made up of experts in economics, public finance, contracting and accounting.
TITLE XV-Accountability and Transparency Protects state and local government and contractor whistleblowers, including rights to civil remedy.
TITLE XVI - General Provision Prohibits funding for casinos, aquariums, zoos, golf courses and swimming pools.
TITLE XIV-State Fiscal Stabilization Fund Requires state and local executives to certify that infrastructure investments have received full review and vetting.

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