Accountability

Published — June 7, 2011 Updated — May 19, 2014 at 12:19 pm ET

Stimulus watchdog says combining data from 25-30 government contract agencies could save millions

Stimulus watchdog Earl Devaney Jasmine Norwood

Introduction

The chairman of the federal board that oversees the $787 billion stimulus program has recommended to the White House that all government agencies adapt its unique data reporting model under one umbrella.

In an interview with iWatch News, Earl Devaney, the chairman of Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said the government could achieve savings of about $50 million a year if his proposals are adopted.

Devaney said government agencies currently spend “well north” of $100 million a year to collect and display spending data across 25 to 30 government websites.

Devaney estimated that by consolidating the collection and display systems into one similar to what the Recovery Board uses for its website, hundreds of billions in spending could be tracked with much greater transparency.

The stimulus program has had very little fraud, because the board has focused on preventing crimes, rather than detecting them after they’ve already happened, he said. Of more than 200,000 reports from stimulus recipients, only 0.5 percent resulted in investigations. To date, there have been 144 convictions involving $2 million of fraud. Currently there are more than 1,200 probes under way.

Devaney made his umbrella proposal in a white paper to Vice President Joe Biden. Devaney will testify next Tuesday on transparency issues before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, where he is likely to discuss the merits of expanding the Recovery Board’s system for collecting and displaying data.

California Rep. Darrell Issa, who chairs the committee, discussed the proposed consolidation of government data and reporting programs in a meeting with Biden last December, said Devaney. Issa is considered an ally on the issue. Legislation to implement these recommendations is likely to be introduced in Congress in the next few weeks.

Devaney called the proposal he sent Biden, who works closely with the Recovery Board, a “lessons learned report.” Devaney stressed that the chief lesson, from his two plus years chairing the board, was that “transparency actually drives accountability.”

Devaney, long a highly regarded inspector general at the Interior department, was tapped by the White House to chair the board in February 2009, just days after President Obama signed the legislation that created the $787 billion program to boost economic recovery from the recession. The board is comprised of Devaney and 12 IGs from federal agencies. It is slated to expire in the fall of 2013.

Devaney stressed that the model that the Recovery Board uses for tracking spending is based on regular reports that are required from all recipients of stimulus funds.

He said the board has learned that these recipient reports are more accurate than having government employees track monies that their agencies spend.

To fight fraud in the program, the board and the IG community have trained over 130,000 government employees and others in fraud prevention, Devaney said, adding that he was pleasantly surprised at the “relatively low fraud numbers.”

“Transparency is the friend of the enforcer and the enemy of the fraudster,” he said.

Devaney was best known in earlier years for a good-sized role on the interagency task force that probed the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal which involved defrauding casino-owning Indian tribes of tens of millions of dollars.

Devaney, who has spent 41 years in government with long stints in the Secret Service and fighting fraud at the EPA, said he plans to retire before the Board sunsets in the fall of 2013.

Devaney called his time running the board, the “capstone of my career.” He added that he hopes “to leave the job with the sense that some of the things we did would be embedded elsewhere,” in the government.

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