Stimulus board’s attempt to shame tiny Iowa city shows faulty oversight
By Paul Brennan | Iowa Watchdog
DES MOINES, Iowa —In September 2009, Volga City was awarded a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to build a public services and emergency shelter facility.
SHORT CHANGED: Volga City has yet to raise the matching funds it promised and until then will not get a penny of stimulus.
More than four years later the grant, part of the federal government’s stimulus program, remains in a USDA bank account. This northeast Iowa community of 208 has yet to break ground on the project.
Volga City has yet to raise the matching funds it promised and until then will not get a penny of stimulus.
“It’s the last of the money that will be coming through,” Kristin Klingman, the city manager of Volga City, told Iowa Watchdog.
The stimulus was sold to the public as a way to jumpstart “shovel-ready” projects. There may be many ways to describe the Volga City project: storm shelter, emergency shelter, community room, training facility, library and city hall. Shovel-ready is not one of them.
While Volga City has not so far been a beneficiary of the stimulus, since 2009 it has been expected to file its lack of progress reports quarterly to the federal government. This the Volga City did faithfully until October when the federal government shut down.
After the shutdown ended, the USDA queried Volga City concerning the whereabouts of its quarterly report. Volga City rushed off its latest report, identical to all of the other reports.
But by that time the government’s filing deadline had passed. The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board added Volga City to what it calls its Wall of Shame, a list of paperwork scofflaws published on the stimulus website, Recovery.gov.
This shaming wall of non-compliant recipients may not offer an accurate picture of how stimulus dollars are being spent in Iowa. It does, however, offer an evocative picture of the ramshackle nature of the federal government’s oversight of stimulus spending.
The Recovery Board was established in 2009 to provide transparency and accountability for how the stimulus money is spent and to “detect and prevent fraud, waste and abuse” in projects using that money.
But according to the Recovery Board, a quarter of the agencies that distributed stimulus didn’t submit reports to it for the third quarter of 2013.
Non-reporting agencies for the third quarter include such major funnels of stimulus money as the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Education, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Some recipients such as the Ames Transit Agency and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault take their dishonorable places on the wall for failing to report on the progress of projects that are already completed.
Failing to report is coupled with confusion as to what to report.
A $14,746,630 grant to Iowa Health System to construct a fiber optic communications network is attributed to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The grant, as documents elsewhere on Recovery.gov reveal, was actually made by the Department of Commerce.
Most of NOAA’s awards were mostly focused on ocean-related matters, none to landlocked health care providers in the Midwest.
Shaming is the government’s only recourse. The Recovery Board was given no authority to compel agencies to provide it with data or to force those agencies to review that data for accuracy.
Nor, despite its mandate, does the board have any authority to pursue cases of waste, fraud and abuse. All such complaints are referred to the Inspector General’s office of whatever agency made a suspect award.
There are no established rules controlling how those inspectors general are to proceed when investigating potential cases of wrongdoing involving stimulus grants.
The Recovery Board had been scheduled to cease activities on Sept. 30, 2013. But with its current oversight responsibilities, such as they are, the board has been extended through 2015.
With any luck, Volga City will have broken ground on its public services and emergency shelter by then.
Contact Paul Brennan at email@example.com
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