“GAO is always considering new ways to make its findings and products accessible to a wide range of audiences through various media,” said Gene L. Dodaro, Acting Comptroller General of the United States and head of the GAO. “Podcasting enhances the service GAO provides to Congress and the public by offering an alternative means for people to learn about significant issues and new GAO reports and testimonies.”
If you’d rather read the transcripts of each podcast, they’re also available if you click on the associated report that accompanies the podcast. For example, here’s the transcript for the stimulus podcast.
Late this afternoon, Oklahoma’s stimulus site unveiled a new section that tracks spending in the state. The revamp has been in the works for several months. It’s accessible by going to the “Recovery Spending” link in the upper right corner of the main site.
Here’s what the technology team from the Office of State Finance said in the e-mail announcing the new section:
We are happy to announce this afternoon that Oklahoma Recovery Spending Data was made available to the public on the Oklahoma Recovery Web site at Recovery.ok.gov.
In addition to being able to drill-down through Function of Government/State Agencies, you can also view award summaries and award details. Finally, the raw data is also available for you to download.
I’ll have a full report later, but here’s a few early screenshots of how parts of the interactive dashboards look (click images for a closer look):
Oklahoma’s Recovery Act Web site is very sparse,” the report states. “The state hasn’t posted a list of its spending for specific (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) program areas and completely lacks information about individual projects. Many of the program information links contain outdated information or are dead.”
The good news is that state officials have promised to unveil a new site next month, one with enhanced search capabilities, vendor information and county details of stimulus spending . What I didn’t know Tuesday was that officials at the Office of State Finance had already signed a contract with software company Oracle Corp. for the revamp of the state’s stimulus Web site:
The Oracle software enables the Office of State Finance to effectively and efficiently manage and collect data related to awards, sub-awards and vendor payments from more than 25 state agencies and higher education institutions that have received Federal funding under ARRA and then automatically submit the data in reports mandated by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to the FederalReporting.gov Web site. The Oracle solution enables the department to better cleanse, combine and report the data, improving data accuracy.
The new software will cost the state $231,836, which includes annual license fees of $41,806, according the Office of State Finance. The state spent another $74,950 in consulting fees with Oracle to build the Web site and train local employees on the new software.
Michael Clingman, director of the Office of State Finance, said his agency also hopes to use the software for the state’s Open Books Web site and for internal agency use:
The Oracle contract encompasses not only ARRA, but pulls together data for our Open Books project and other reports the state makes to the federal government,” Clingman said in a statement. “In addition, Oracle software licenses will be used for annual financial reports by the state.”
In an interview in December, Clingman said OSF looked at free or open-source options for updates to the state stimulus Web site. In the end, the agency determined it would take too long to implement a new system from scratch, he said.
The state uses an Oracle product, PeopleSoft, for its human resources system, so it already had an existing business relationship with the company. (Oracle purchased PeopleSoft in 2005.) For more details on the Business Intelligence software that the state bought, check out this product sheet from Oracle.
In keeping with the holiday season, here’s some information on who among stimulus recipients have been put on the “naughty” list.
The federal Recovery Accountability Transparency Board has released its list of stimulus recipients who either filed late or failed to file for the first reporting period. Unfortunately, it’s a clunky 238-page PDF here. And it’s not broken down by state. It lists more than 4,300 awards that were not reported and the reasons given for the lack of information (the “dog ate my homework” excuses).
I did a quick search of the non-reporting document for Oklahoma recipients. I came up with 17, but I’m pretty sure there’s more on there because I didn’t search for every possible city or county that might have received money in the state.
Here’s a partial list of what I did find. Scroll right to see the reasons given:
If you’re curious, take a look yourself at the original lists and let me know what else you find.
UPDATE, 3:10 p.m, 12/17/09: Despite the “naughty” list, it looks like Oklahoma recipients fared well in the number of changed and corrected reports. The state had the best showing of all when you look at the percentage of stimulus reports that were changed. Out of 3,656 recipient reports in Oklahoma, 229 were changed, or just 6 percent. Nebraska fared the worst, with 73 percent of its reports getting changed after their initial report. You can see the rest of the list here.
When the American Recovery and Reconstruction Act passed back in February, its backers promised an unparalleled level of disclosure about where the money is going. While I applaud the sentiment, the release of stimulus data in the last month has been anything but smooth.
It’s a classic case of over-promising and under-delivering.
Since much of the direct stimulus aid goes to state capitals, any attempt to analyze stimulus spending by Congressional district alone would skew the figures. In the chart below, about half of the stimulus awards in Oklahoma — $1.3 billion — is going to the 5th Congressional District, which includes Oklahoma City.
After our story came out today, one reader e-mailed and said recipients could have entered their state House or Senate districts by mistake instead of the Congressional districts. For me, more troubling than the so-called “fake” Congressional districts is the fact that a good chunk of the data don’t include any Congressional district at all (the “Null” field above).
Still, in the wake of all the negative press about the Congressional districts, the officials behind Recovery.gov said they have updated the data on the site that erroneously placed stimulus awards in nonexistent districts.
If a recipient reported an incorrect or invalid congressional district, the code “ZZ” appears in the “Congressional District” field as a placeholder. The recipient will change the report with the correct congressional district during the next reporting period, beginning January 1, 2010.
Also, the federal watchdogs in charge of stimulus spending were grilled on Capitol Hill this morning. In a related report, the Government Accountability Office had some interesting things to say about how stimulus transparency has fared so far. What I found interesting is its investigators started doing error analysis on the same day the data was released to the general public.
GAO performed an initial set of basic analyses on the final recipient report data that first became available at www.recovery.gov on October 30, 2009; reviewed documents; interviewed relevant state and federal officials; and conducted fieldwork in selected states, focusing on a sample of highway and education projects.
While much of the blame for erroneous or missing data is being placed at the recipients who filled out the Web forms on FederalReporting.gov, many are asking if there shouldn’t be some type of validation for the data before it’s released to the public.
The guidance released back in the summer by the Office of Management and Budget lays out who is responsible for data quality in stimulus reporting.
Data quality is an important responsibility of key stakeholders identified in the Recovery Act. Prime recipients, as owners of the data submitted, have the principal responsibility for the quality of the information submitted. Sub-recipients delegated to report on behalf of prime recipients share in this responsibility. Agencies funding Recovery Act projects and activities provide a layer of oversight that augments recipient data quality. Oversight authorities including the OMB, the Recovery Board, and Federal agency Inspectors General also have roles to play in data quality. The general public and non-governmental entities interested in “good government” can help with data quality, as well, by highlighting problems for correction.
To be fair, more than 100,000 reports on stimulus spending have been filed so far. Some data entry errors or miscategorizations were bound to happen when you have that many people filling in Web forms. Here’s what the GAO said it found:
Our review also identified a number of cases in which other anomalies suggest a need for review: discrepancies between award amounts and the amounts reported as received, implausible amounts, or misidentification of awarding agencies. While these occurred in a relatively small number of cases, they indicate the need for further data quality efforts.
Officials hope that future stimulus reports will contain fewer errors as recipients become more comfortable filling out the forms and the requirements are refined. In the meantime, Recovery.gov could make an easy fix by allowing users of the site to flag data that plainly looks wrong. It could function much like the “star ratings” systems on other sites, where users could “grade” their view of the data accuracy in a report.
UPDATE, 6:10 p.m., 11/19/09: From the prepared remarks of the Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board:
These mistakes do not surprise me, however, and in a serendipitious way, they are not unequivocally bad. In reality, this data should serve in the long run as evidence of what transparency can achieve.
In the past, this data would have been scrubbed from top to bottom before its release, and the agencies would never have released the information until it was perfect. You — and the American public — are now seeing what agencies have seen, internally, in the past. And what we are all seeing, at least following this first reporting period, is not particularly pretty.
This raw-form, unsanitized data may cause embarrassment for some agencies and recipients, but my expectation is that any embarrassment suffered will encourage self-correcting behavior and lead to more accurate reporting in the future.
My story about the Oklahoma rebates is here, but some data I requested from the Oklahoma Tax Commission came in too late for my deadline. I wanted to know whether the Cash for Clunkers rebates had much effect on the number of new vehicles titled by the commission. Here’s the month-by-month breakdown for January to October for 2008 and 2009:
I’m wary of drawing too many conclusions, but it looks like the number of new vehicles titled in Oklahoma did get a boost in the late summer months this year. It’s clear that new vehicle sales were pretty slow in the early part of this year. Overall, more than 8,700 vehicles in Oklahoma qualified for Cash for Clunkers rebates. Those sales were spread over the three months of the program, which ended in late August and spilled over into early September.
Paul Taylor, the chief economist for the National Automobile Dealers Association, said the Cash for Clunkers program probably helped the economy in the third quarter as states received extra tax revenue and showrooms stayed busy. It may also have some spillover effects into the fourth quarter as auto manufacturers, which had slashed production in the wake of sluggish sales, ramped up production on assembly lines to replace inventory.
The Clunkers program lit up the market. Auto showrooms went from almost empty to overflowing. It’s hard to imagine how anyone who takes an objective look at the Cash for Clunkers program can reach any conclusion other than it gave a dramatic boost to retail sales and manufacturing output,” Taylor said.
The results on the environmental front are a little more mixed. Sure, some true clunkers and gas guzzlers were taken off the road and crushed in salvage yards. But many of the new vehicles bought using the rebates were trucks, so it’s done little to change consumer habits. And gas prices are down from their record highs in 2008, so that tiny economical car doesn’t look as attractive as it once did when gasoline was topping $4/gallon.
–UPDATE: If you want to download the Oklahoma data yourself, just go here. It’s a pretty large Excel file of about 5MB.
–UPDATE: I just stumbled across this Daily Show clip from last night. Apparently, the demolition-derby constituency isn’t very happy with the whole Cash for Clunkers program.
|The Daily Show With Jon Stewart||Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c|
|Crash for Clunkers|
New figures were released this morning on Recovery.org about the estimated jobs saved and/or created from stimulus spending so far. The numbers are coming from the first-round of information reported by contractors earlier this month.
In Oklahoma, the results are underwhelming to say the least. According to the site, Oklahoma companies have signed 120 stimulus-related contracts so far for $92.3 million. And the jobs created or saved? Just 202.
Nationwide, about 30,300 jobs have been created or saved so far, according to data collected so far. That’s not much considering the economy needs to be creating about 100,000 jobs each month just to keep up with population growth.
One White House economist, Jared Bernstein, said it’s still too early to say whether the stimulus is working as intended. But he pointed to “private estimates” as proof that many more jobs are being created.
“It is too soon to draw any global conclusions from this partial and preliminary data, as it reports on just $16 billion of the $339 billion in Recovery Act efforts before September 30th, but the early indications are quite positive. The direct count by Recovery Act recipients of jobs created or saved from this small percentage of the Recovery Act exceeds our projections. All signs — from private estimates to this fragmentary data — point to the conclusion that the Recovery Act did indeed create or save about 1 million jobs in its first seven months, a much needed lift in a very difficult period for our economy. We look forward to the much larger, comprehensive report due on October 30th.”
Just last month, the president’s Council of Economic Advisers put out its estimates of stimulus-related job creation in the first-quarter. Here’s the relevant table:
Buried deep in the report, the council says it used three methodologies to estimate job impacts by state.
None of these three approaches does a perfect job of measuring the geographic distribution of employment effects, and each has advantages and disadvantages relative to the others. Thus, to obtain a reasonable estimate of state-level job impacts, we use a simple average of the three approaches.
Of course, simply because their populations are larger, we estimate that larger states have seen larger jobs impacts. Similarly, because their employment is more cyclically sensitive, industrial states are estimated to have had larger employment effects relative to their populations. Finally, both because of their industrial composition and because state fiscal relief and aid to those directly impacted have been larger in states hit harder by the recession, we estimate that states with higher unemployment rates at the time of passage have seen larger employment effects of the ARRA relative to their populations.
The Washington Post has a good wrap-up of the expectations created, and the reality of reporting job figures, here:
… Others say the reports being released this month will underscore the challenge of trying to quantify the jobs being created. Initial recipients of the stimulus money, and any government or company that they pass it on to, must report how they use the funds and how many jobs they create. But the reporting requirements do not apply to additional levels of contractors who receive the money.
My advice is to treat those early job numbers as estimates and best-guesses, at least until we get more information later this month and in the months to come.
To find out who’s getting stimulus contracts so far, just check out Recovery.gov. Here’s a list of the Oklahoma contracts signed as of earlier this month, either by Oklahoma companies or for work to be done in Oklahoma. (We also have a link to the state government’s stimulus site on our Right to Know page, which includes other databases of local interest.)
I’ve already pointed out a few issues with the federal recovery.gov site and our state’s stimulus tracking site in an earlier post, but now a national group has come out with a report ranking every state’s stimulus Web site.
The results are not encouraging. Oklahoma’s main stimulus site manages a score of just 20 out of 100 possible points, according to the rankings by Good Jobs First. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation’s stimulus site fares a little better, at 33 out of 100.
“Given the Recovery Act’s high profile, we expected better results, but most state ARRA [American Recovery and Reinvestment Act] sites simply do not measure up,” said Philip Mattera, research director of Good Jobs First and principal author of the report. “The challenge is not insurmountable. States such as Maryland, Colorado and Washington are doing a very good job in conveying vital information about stimulus spending and are leading the way in establishing best practices for state ARRA disclosure.”
Good Jobs First does say Oklahoma’s site includes good information on the broad allocation of stimulus funds. But it faulted Oklahoma for not including information about jobs saved and/or created and for failing to provide stimulus funds by geography.
If there is a silver lining in the report, it’s that most other states scored close to Oklahoma. The average score in the Good Jobs First report was 28. Just six states scored 50 or better for their main stimulus site: Maryland, Colorado, Washington, West Virginia, New York and Pennsylvania.
Good Jobs First had several recommendations for state stimulus Web sites:
1. Put a summary of key information about ARRA spending at the top of the home page of the site. A clear bar graph, pie chart or table showing the main spending flows goes a long way in helping the user begin to see what the Recovery Act is all about. There should be clear links to pages with more details about the various programs.
2. Provide a map or a table showing how overall ARRA spending and the amounts in key categories are being distributed geographically around the state.
3. Along with information on spending streams, report on individual projects being funded by those programs. Where possible, display the location of the projects on maps. Interactive displays that allow one to drill down for more details are better than static PDF maps. [emphasis mine]
4. For projects carried out by private contractors, be open about the contract award process and the identity of the companies that win bidding competitions. Post the bids and the details, including the full text of the contract awarded to the winner.
5. While the federal government’s Council of Economic Advisers is responsible for estimating the overall employment impacts of ARRA and the Recovery.gov website will report jobs data on some (but not all) individual projects, state ARRA sites should also make an effort to include employment data in their project reporting.
6. ARRA sites should provide readily accessible information about the ways that individuals, organizations and businesses can apply for stimulus grants and contracts.
I’m sympathetic to a point about some of the Oklahoma Web site’s shortcomings. After all, the stimulus money continues to trickle out of Washington to the states. And we’re all new at finding the quickest and most effective ways of keeping track of it.
The folks at OK.gov, who administer the state’s stimulus site on behalf of the ARRA Coordinating Council, put me in touch with the Webmaster for the stimulus site. I’ve also got a call into the governor’s office. I’ll update when I hear back from them.
UPDATE: Behind the scenes, budget officials, agency coordinators and Web programmers are working to get additional information on the state’s stimulus site by the federal deadline in October. Among the possibilities are map mashups and raw data feeds and downloads.
Meanwhile, Paul Sund, Gov. Brad Henry’s spokesman, said the state ARRA Coordinating Council will meet again, but no definitive date has been set. The council last met in March.
The state Department of Education has released its initial projections of how much money each school district can expect from state coffers in the upcoming school year. You can read my colleague Dawn Marks’ story here.
We’ve compiled the projections into a searchable database on our Right to Know page. You can search for your school district by either county or district name, or both. You can also download the spreadsheet and do your own analysis.
Included in the state aid this year is about $167 million in federal stimulus money that lawmakers added to the state Education Department budget to avoid cuts. Districts can expect more stimulus money from the state later in the year.
Those figures don’t include other stimulus money each district is eligible for in special education funding and what they call Title I help for math and reading programs in districts with higher proportions of low-income students. (For more on that chunk of stimulus money, read Dawn’s earlier story here.)
Looking at the figures, aid to most schools is down this fiscal year as compared to the final amounts they received in FY 2009. And financial officials in the districts expect this year’s amounts to decline as the state revenue picture becomes clearer:
Because revenue collections for the state have been lower than expected, allocations could change, said James White, assistant state superintendent for finance. “It may get worse. We may have to reduce those later,” White said. “Right now we’re telling school districts not to do anything drastic but to plan for cuts.”
Without stimulus money, the picture could have been bleaker, state officials said. It’s also important to remember that the state aid allocation is just one part of the funding for public schools. Other money comes from local property taxes and regular, non-stimulus, federal funding.
Here’s a quick look at the top 20 districts and their FY 2010 projected state aid amounts compared to last year: