Stimulus Bill Calls for Money and Transparency

“The economy is in a crisis not seen since the Great Depression. Credit is frozen, consumer purchasing power is in decline, in the last four months the country has lost two million jobs and we are expected to lose another three million to five million next year. Conservative economist Mark Zandi was blunt: ‘the economy is shutting down.’”<!—->

That’s the grim preamble to a 258-page bill — The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 —  released yesterday by the House Appropriations Committee. It’s what Democrats hope will serve as an outline for the much-promised federal-stimulus package intended to revive the <!—->U.S. economy.

 It calls for $275 billion in tax cuts and $550 billion “in thoughtful and carefully targeted priority investments with unprecedented accountability measures built in.” Science is addressed prominently in the package (see next blog), with money targeted for investment in research and the labs in which much research takes place.

But a unique feature called for in the new legislation — and definitely a sign of these digital times — is its pledge to offer public accountability to anyone with access to a web browser. “Each contract awarded or grant issued using funds made available in this Act,” the bill says, “shall be posted on the Internet and linked to the website”

People who have concerns about how money has been apportioned or used can petition Uncle Sam’s inspectors general for an investigation. “Any findings . . . from such a review shall be relayed immediately to the head of each department or agency. In addition, the findings of such reviews, along with any audits conducted by any inspector general of funds made available in this Act, shall be posted on the Internet and linked to . . .”

The bill also mandates internal accounting of the effectiveness of stimulus spending. The chairman of the president’s Council of Economic Advisers — in consultation with the Treasury and the Office of Management and Budget — would have to issue quarterly reports “detailing the estimated impact of programs under this Act on employment, economic growth, and other key economic indicators.”

Finally, the bill calls for creation of a seven-member Accountability and Transparency Board in charge of preventing “waste, fraud or abuse” of stimulus funds. This board would also manage the website, which is supposed to provide “user-friendly visual presentations” on stimulus spending and the opportunity for the public to post feedback.

Janet Raloff

Janet Raloff is the Editor, Digital of Science News Explores, a daily online magazine for middle school students. She started at Science News in 1977 as the environment and policy writer, specializing in toxicology. To her never-ending surprise, her daughter became a toxicologist.

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