Many Tools Available For Following the Stimulus Money

March 4, 2009

The massive $787 billion economic stimulus package signed into law by President Obama Feb. 17, 2009, contains extensive funding for projects with direct and indirect environmental ties.

Projects can be covered from numerous angles of interest to your audience, such as the people involved in planning, designing, and building them; the environmental impacts of the projects, including environmental review and approval processes, and possible use of mechanisms such as eminent domain to expedite projects; the short- and long-term effects on the community's sustainability; and the politics behind how the money was obtained and spent, and who gained and lost.

President Obama has vowed to provide extensive transparency and accountability for implementation of the Recovery Act. In addition to tracking developments at the URL noted above — where information down to at least the level of project type, dollar amount, and county location is supposed to eventually be available — another resource likely will be provided through the newly-created Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board (Web site not yet available). It will be headed by former Dept. of Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney. He gained prominence in the past few years for his high-profile unveiling of corruption, malfeasance, and mismanagement at the Department, including the dealings of former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and the scandal over oil and gas royalties at the Minerals Management Service.

An indication of how federal agencies and organizations are supposed to structure their programs and oversight, along with dates for when certain actions are supposed to be completed, was issued Feb 18, 2009, by the Office of Management and Budget:

Some of the big-picture aspects of the funding authorized by the Recovery Act are still being jawed over — such as how much flexibility decision makers will have, whether states can selectively accept funding (suggesting that states that want to avoid certain kinds of environmental projects may have the ability to do that), and how much transparency and accountability will be required. Details for the type, location, and amount of each funded project will be sorted out in the days and months to come.

As a starting point, a few of the broad-brush categories with environmental implications that have been identified so far include:

  • Energy, such as solar, wind, coal, nuclear, transmission lines, energy efficiency, improved vehicles, and research and development: $43 billion
  • Infrastructure and Science, including roads, bridges, mass transit, water and sewer projects, levees, contaminated site cleanups, and research and development: $111 billion
  • Tax changes, some of which deal with environmental issues: $288 billion (including $22 billion for Energy-related work, and $15 billion for Infrastructure and Science-related work)

Breakouts of some of the details within each broad category were made by various congressional House and Senate committees as the stimulus package was finalized. A few examples include:

To identify many other committees whose Web sites you can search for their perspective on environmental aspects of the Recovery Act, see the TipSheet of Jan. 21, 2009.

Federal agencies that have environmental responsibilities will often be providing their own additional information sources that you can use to track projects that affect your audience. Examples include:

At the state and county level, many are also likely to have their own tools for tracking the influx of money. Some are also setting up their own bureaucracy to administer and oversee the funds. For more information, check out each jurisdiction's Web site in your area.

Various organizations that deal with multiple states, or regions, may also be good information sources. For instance, the National Governors Association doesn't yet have a specific Recovery Act program (though one may be forthcoming), but you might be able to gain some insights through some of the organization's sub-groups:

An extensive breakout of dollar amounts for various subcategories of projects is included in the Wikipedia entry for the Recovery Act. However, the numbers aren't linked to references, so these should be considered at best a starting point for your own reporting.

In addition to these sources, it's likely that almost any interest group with some type of focus on an environmentally-related project will be providing its own tools for following and evaluating projects. In addition to these issue-specific groups, you may be able to gather additional perspective from sources such as: