Recovery board foiled by its own effort to track stimulus spending

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Add another chapter in the government's struggles to account for how the $787 billion stimulus money is being spent.

A month ago, the head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog for that money, put out a list of “two time losers” — recipients of stimulus grants who had failed to file the first two required reports detailing how they spent the cash. The board put out a list of 389 recipients it said were identified from federal spending records as having neglected to file those reports in either October and January; the board gave them a good tongue lashing.

“The two-time losers — those who failed to file reports in the last quarter of 2009 and the earlier reporting period — should really be embarrassed,’’ Earl E. Devaney, the board’s chairman, said at the time the list was released in late February. “They took millions of dollars and then thumbed their noses at taxpayers.”

Well, not exactly. Actually, it was the Board that ended up red-faced after reporters checking the list found numerous grant recipients who in fact had filed their required reports. In some cases, the recipients were a bit indignant about being wrongly singled out.

Take for instance the 35-member Town of Amesbury police department in Massachusetts, which filed its report correctly but erroneously ended up on the scofflaw list.

"I know we filed our report and I know we then got a call from them saying we didn't. Get's kind of confusing," Deputy Chief Gary Ingham said Friday. "There are so many different reports …They should really streamline their systems."

Ingham offered his own advice to the feds: let the police departments forced to fill out all those reports help you design a uniform reporting system for all grants.

After getting some complaints, the Board revisited its "two-time losers" list. In the end, it found that 79 of the recipients named in that February release were incorrectly listed, the Amesbury police among them. The board then removed them from the list. The problem, it turns out, was rooted in inconsistencies between the names from the spending records federal agencies sent to the board and the accounting reports, board spokesman Ed Pound explained.

On late Thursday, the board put out a revised list with the 310 real violators, Pound said.

And Devaney, who was chosen for the job of providing oversight to stimulus funding because of his long and successful career as a government spending watchdog, did the honorable thing. He fell on his sword.

"This mistake should not have occurred and I regret that it did," he said.

The mistake aside, Devaney and his agency have won early accolades for his efforts to make all of the spending from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act available to the public and for early oversight investigations that have tried to stop wasteful spending before it happens.

And the new list of "two-time losers" still has 310 scofflaws, ranging from lawn service companies to local sheriff's departments and colleges, all of whom are accused of failing to file their reports. You can see the full, corrected list here.cpikftag

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