The Stimulus Package is Coming to Town – But Where?

Recovery.gov, hosted by the Office of Management and Budget, is supposed to let Americans see how stimulus dollars are being spent. But it turns out the most comprehensive, clear glimpse of how funds are likely to be spent is still the U.S. Conference of Mayor’s Wish List, which I and some colleagues put into a searchable format at StimulusWatch.org.

The USCM decided back in November that by publishing its list, it could show Congress how many worthy local projects could be funded with federal dollars. The list is a great resource: it breaks down federal spending in terms of actual projects, instead of budget accounts.

But this may be the last bit of meaningful detail we see for the forseeable future.

The stimulus legislation only requires that States and immediate beneficiaries report how funds are spent. Spending data isn’t likely to be deep, or detailed. We do not yet know if we will we get project level information (who got the contract?, what did they build?, how many people did they hire?) or in what format it will come.

Last week my colleague Jerry Brito and I testified at separate hearings in Congress on how the Administration should provide data to the public to enable them to monitor the stimulus. My testimony is here; Jerry’s is here.

Unfortunately we learned that the data aren’t going to be on Recovery.gov for a year, and even then they may not be useful: The act doesn’t require data be put in structured format.

The stimulus package is terribly significant for the future fiscal health of local governments. Federal money comes with strings. It locks into place federal programs, leaving a fiscal imprint; it also creates a future demand for spending that the locality might not be able to support. It weakens the the control of local government, and stimulates the growth of the public sector.

That makes paying attention to City Hall all the more important. How is your city spending its stimulus money?