Recovery Blog

Watching over Sandy

Posted in From the Recovery Board Chair by on February 13, 2013

The Recovery Board was scheduled to expire on September 30 under the Recovery Act. However, a $50.5 billion emergency aid plan for victims of Hurricane Sandy extends the life of the Board and directs the panel to keep a close eye on how the funds are used.  The plan, adopted by Congress, was signed by the President in late January.

“Through September 30, 2015,’’ the law says, the Recovery Board “shall develop and use information technology resources and oversight mechanisms to detect and remediate waste, fraud, and abuse’’ in the aid program. Earlier in January, Congress approved a $9.7 billion aid bill, bringing total Sandy assistance to $60.2 billion.

The measure directs the Recovery Board to coordinate oversight with the Office of Management and Budget, along with the Inspectors General and heads of each federal agency that receives Sandy money. The Board also is required to submit quarterly reports to congressional appropriations committees with respect to its oversight activities.

In short, Congress clearly wants to ensure that aid funds are not misspent or diverted improperly. The money is designed to help rebuild the lives of the victims of superstorm Sandy, which invaded the East Coast and left a path of devastation in late October. New Jersey and the New York City area were especially hard hit.

The Recovery program and the Board, its oversight arm, were established in February 2009 as the financial crisis was in full swing. The Board created the Recovery Operations Center, an analysis center designed with fraud prevention and detection in mind. Analysts use advanced analytics to search massive amounts of data, looking for early warning signs of trouble linked to recipients of Recovery funds. This data includes criminal convictions, lawsuits, tax liens, bankruptcies, risky financial deals, and other telltale signs of problems. When a problem is spotted, analysts review the issue and forward their information to the relevant Inspector General for additional inquiry.

The ROC, in coordination with the Inspector General community, will serve as the focal point of our efforts to monitor Hurricane Sandy aid. In overseeing Sandy funding, the Board is expecting to support state auditors, state Attorneys General, and appropriate law enforcement task forces around the country.

– Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board

Death, Taxes, and Inconsistent Data

Posted in From the Recovery Board Chair by on January 9, 2013

Benjamin Franklin once wrote that nothing can be said to be certain “except death and taxes.’’

If Ben were still around, he might now say: “except death, taxes, and inconsistent federal data standards.’’

For nearly a half century, the federal government has failed to develop a data standard system that would permit data sharing among agencies, save lots of money, and vastly improve the quality of information, including details on how the government spends your money. In nearly four years on the job, the Recovery Board and its staff have learned a lot—but nothing more important than the need for consistent data standards. Consistency would lead to better data quality, government-wide, a prospect that would ensure improved oversight of taxpayer dollars.

Indeed, the Board, the Government Accountability Office, and the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency will convene a data forum on Wednesday, January 16, at GAO headquarters in Washington. The focus will be on the use of data analytics for oversight and law enforcement purposes.  The subjects include: Data Sources that can be used to prevent and detect fraud; Access to and Sharing of Data; and Technology Tools.

Data quality has always been an issue of paramount importance to the Board. In the early days of the Recovery program, the Office of Management and Budget issued guidelines defining the standard data elements that all recipients of stimulus funds had to report. Those guidelines allowed for data consistency and much better oversight. The Board, meanwhile, used only one electronic system——to collect the spending data from tens of thousands of recipients.

The results: Since October 2009, when the Board first began posting data from recipients, we have overseen 13 reporting periods without any major blunders. Our data quality, except for a glitch here or there, has been excellent.

There’s nothing mysterious about standards in our everyday lives. Without them, consumers and sellers of products would have a tough time doing business. Look around, you see them everywhere:

  • Every gas station has the same nozzles that fit every vehicle’s tank.
  • How about the four C’s of diamonds—cut, clarity, color, and carat weight? Each category has a strict set of standards by which diamonds are measured and rated. That’s how value is determined.
  • You love baseball? Standards are essential—baseballs are manufactured to specific standards. The same is true for bats.

Thus, it’s no surprise that consistent standards for government data would be a big plus. The Government Accountability and Transparency Board, a key ingredient in the President’s campaign against wasteful spending, summarized the issue of inconsistent data standards nicely in a report in December 2011.  The panel  said:

“The countless award identification (award ID) systems…make the task of reviewing and tracking spending data challenging even for the most expert investigator, much less the everyday taxpayer. Introducing consistency into the award process will help better reconcile spending information from multiple sources and allow for more effective analysis and oversight.’’

The issue of data standards in the federal government has been around since at least 1965 when President Lyndon B. Johnson issued a report to Congress addressing the government’s management of automatic data processing.  Several years later—in May 1974, to be precise–the General Accounting Office (now known as the Government Accountability Office) wrote: “Standardization could help reduce high costs of federal computer operations by eliminating unnecessary duplication and incompatibilities in collecting, processing, and disseminating data.’’ Nothing much has happened in the intervening years, however.

It’s about time to do something. In our  judgment, a good beginning would be to implement, government-wide, a universal award ID number for all contracts, grants, and loans. A universal ID would make it much easier to track and reconcile funds awarded to recipients of federal funds.

It would also make a lot of sense if the government developed a centralized system for collecting data for all government awards—something like, the website we created for collecting Recovery data.

The ideas are out there. What is needed now is action.

   –Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board, and Inspector General, Department of Education

Keeping Faith with Taxpayers

Posted in Accountability by on December 12, 2012

The good news: Almost all recipients of Recovery Act funds submit spending reports as required by law.

The bad news: Some recipients do not report, meaning the American public, in those cases, has no idea how its tax dollars are being used.

For those scofflaws, we created the “Wall of Shame,’’ a listing of recipients who essentially thumbed their noses at taxpayers. This time around—for the quarter ending September 30—recipients failed to submit 353 reports on how they used Recovery funds. Ten recipients, including four government entities, failed to submit reports in three or more quarters, the new listing shows.

The excuses ran the gamut. Three recipients told federal agencies they were “unable to access a computer over the weekend.’’ Another recipient reported being out of the country while still another claimed she was on vacation. The Labor Department said one recipient of a $3.2 million grant gave this reason: “Grantee president responsible for approving report had deceased; no backup plan in place.’’

The last time I reported on this issue, the largest number of non-compliers had received Justice Department grants. Unfortunately, in the most recent quarter, this troubling pattern continued—34 percent, or 120, of the awards on the Wall of Shame represented grants from the Justice Department. These included police departments, sheriff’s offices, and city and county governments.

Looking at the big picture, reporting compliance is excellent. In this past quarter, recipients submitted 105,784 spending reports to the Recovery Board.

– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board

How 22 School Districts Used Recovery Funds

Posted in From the Recovery Board Chair by on November 14, 2012

The recession of 2008 dealt a severe blow to elementary and secondary school programs across the country. Declining tax revenues forced state and local governments to slash their assistance to school districts, which, in turn, cut their budgets, eliminated jobs, and scaled back vital services and activities.

A grim picture, to be sure, but one Congress sought to brighten when it adopted the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The Recovery Act included $97 billion for existing and new education-related grant programs. In August 2010, lawmakers adopted the Education Jobs Funds program, or Ed Jobs, providing another $10 billion in assistance to fund education jobs.

As the Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Education, which provided the funding, I wanted some answers: How much did that infusion of funds help beleaguered schools? Were many more jobs created, including teaching positions? I knew we did not have the resources to cover all 13,000 school districts across the country. By necessity, we had to be selective—an approach that would give taxpayers a snapshot of the impact of the spending programs in 22 school districts, big and small, across 21 states and the District of Columbia.

The 22 school districts ranged in size from about 1,000,000 students in New York City to about 13,000 students in Rapid City, South Dakota. To varying degrees, they all were affected by the economic downturn.  Unemployment rates in the counties in which the schools districts are located ranged from a high of 12.4 percent to a low of 4.7 percent.  Officials in about half of the districts told our auditors that the recession also severely affected housing market conditions and consumer-based taxes.

Before the recession, according to state and district officials, most states had been increasing their education funding and local financial support had been stable. Once the economic calamity grabbed hold, however, more than two-thirds of the school districts experienced reduced funding from state or local sources.

The review performed by our audit office covered about $4.4 billion in stimulus funds awarded to the 22 districts under three grant programs for elementary and secondary schools along with the Ed Jobs  program. Here is what we found:

  • To help drive the economic recovery and strengthen education resources, the Department of Education directed educators to spend Recovery Act and Ed Jobs funds quickly and wisely. The 22 school districts generally made quick use of funds, including amounts designated for educationally disadvantaged students and students with disabilities.  Some districts, however, held back money to maintain existing staffing levels into the future.
  • Education Department guidance gave school districts the flexibility to use Recovery Act money provided under the federal Education Stabilization Fund (ESF) on a broad range of education-related activities. But in the case of the 22 districts, many officials believed they had little or no discretion on how to use the funds; therefore, they used the money to offset cuts in state or local funding. By comparison, the districts often used other education funds made available under the Recovery Act–including disabilities grant programs–to advance educational reforms such as hiring instructional coaches to improve teacher and student performance.
  • The Recovery Act encouraged investment in infrastructure that would provide long-term economic benefits. Of the 22 districts reviewed, however, only Virginia Beach, VA, used ESF funds along with local money and charter bonds to partly fund construction of a new energy-efficient building to replace an old elementary school.  There were several reasons other districts chose not to fund construction projects, probably most importantly the need to use ESF funds to support school budgets.
  • To avoid so-called funding cliffs, many districts used some stimulus funds for services and activities requiring only one-time or short-term outlays.  A funding cliff occurs when a district is unable to sustain activities or services after Recovery Act funds are no longer available. Unless financial help came from state or local governments, most district officials said they expected to face moderate to significant funding cliffs after stimulus funds ran out.
  • For the three Recovery Act grant programs included in this review, most districts spent all of their funds within the grant period designated by the Education Department.  Officials in five districts reported, however, that they had $1.7 million in disabilities funds they had not spent, most from the Newark, NJ, district ($1.5 million).
  • The jobs picture was fuzzy, to put it mildly. School officials reported that increased spending had a positive impact, supporting teaching and other personnel jobs in their districts. Nonetheless, our auditors could not establish with any certainty the number of jobs funded in the districts. One reason: The number of jobs reported publicly by the districts under the Recovery program did not always represent new or specific jobs. Some districts used stimulus money to replace other funds that had previously supported personnel costs.

In the end, it seems clear that the stimulus and Ed Jobs funding provided critical help to the hard-pressed school districts we reviewed. Beyond that finding, measuring results on issues not related to personnel, such as student academic achievement and graduate rates, proved elusive. One example should suffice: Officials in several districts said they used multiple funding sources to finance activities aimed at improving student academic achievement. Given that context, the officials said they did not attempt to measure results tied to their use of stimulus funds.

– Kathleen S. Tighe, Chair, Recovery Board, and Inspector General, Department of Education

Reducing Reporting Burden

Posted in Recipient reporting by on October 17, 2012

Filling out government paperwork can be repetitive, time-consuming, and costly to those who receive federal funds. An oft-heard query, and complaint, from recipients of government funds:  How many times do I have to submit the same information to different government agencies?

That’s a legitimate complaint. Indeed, it can be a pain to fill out even a single government report, as anyone who’s prepared one knows. But when confronted with the prospect of submitting multiple reports on the same government award—sometimes using different paper and electronic formats—it can be downright maddening.

The Recovery Board has spent more than three years in the data trenches, collecting spending reports from recipients of Recovery Act funds.  Some recipients also are required to file similar reports with other agencies—and they are really not all that happy with that bureaucratic requirement. And, frankly, we don’t blame them. It would seem more sensible to consolidate government reporting requirements so that recipients could submit reports to a single collection system.

With that in mind, the Recovery Board will be testing whether a centralized system of data collection and warehousing would save recipients and government agencies money and time. We are calling this pilot project the Grants Reporting Information Project, or GRIP for short. GRIP will be modeled after the reporting system the Board created for the Recovery program.

GRIP will collect financial data from recipients of non-Recovery grant awards made by several agencies.  The recipients include seven universities, a community college, the State of Nebraska, and a local city in Maryland.  The agencies include the Departments of Agriculture, Defense, Education, Energy, Health and Human Services, Housing, Interior, and Justice; the Environmental Protection Agency; the National Aeronautics and Space Administration; the National Science Foundation; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration; and the Office of Naval Research.

Test recipients will submit their reports to The website is an offshoot of, the password-protected site developed with Environmental Protection Agency technology to gather spending data from Recovery Act recipients for the past three years. EPA has worked closely with the Board in developing the GRIP project.

GRIP data will be collected through November 9. Once the reports are in, participating agencies will evaluate the data reports for accuracy, completeness, and compatibility with existing financial reporting systems. If this proof of concept model proves feasible, we would next sponsor a full pilot project in which agencies would use the centralized system over a more extended period.

This could end up being a big deal if this initial pilot project suggests significant efficiencies and savings. Once the results are in, I will report the findings in this blog.

– Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board

Easy Access to Recovery Data

Posted in by on October 1, 2012

Transparency isn’t transparency if you cannot understand the information being presented on a government website.

That’s why we have concentrated so intensely on improving, the Recovery Board’s website that posts spending data from recipients of Recovery Act funds along with financial reports from the 28 federal agencies that distribute the money.

Of course, no system is perfect.  Data quality is essential to transparency and in the early days of the program, back in October 2009, the quality of some recipient reports was, to put it mildly, poor. Over time, the reports improved markedly—so much so that we now consider data quality to be excellent.

At the direction of the Recovery Board, the staff continues making improvements to the website so that users—the public, the press, watchdog organizations, and others—can access information easily and understand what they are reviewing.

Our latest innovation is something we call the Recipient Projects Map. Take a look and I think you will find it even easier to get the information you want from Simply put, you can access state summaries, profiles of recipients, and award summaries all in one place. Consistent with the Board’s long-standing approach to transparency, this new tool provides detailed information on spending at the local level. The information comes from quarterly spending reports submitted by recipients.

Let’s take a quick tour: offers several ways to easily access the Recipient Projects Map.  Here are two of them:  Go to and click on any state on the blue map located on the top right side of the homepage.  Or, alternatively, go to the top of the homepage and click on the “WHERE IS THE MONEY GOING?” drop down menu and select recipient and agency data to get to the projects map.

Once on the map page, it’s easy to get a lot of information on who is getting what in a specific state.

Let’s take Louisiana, for instance. Right off, you can see that 3,142 awards, totaling $3,348,350,744, have been made in that state during the life of the Recovery program. In the filters at the top of the page, you can enter specific criteria to narrow your search.

Select the Education category, click “Go’’ on the right side of the page, and up pops the total funds awarded for education programs ($1,191,974,762), the total awards (794), and the number of jobs funded in the April-June 2012 quarter (277).  If you are interested in details about a specific recipient, just click on the “profile’’ link and get the information you need.


I won’t belabor my point on the usability of this tool. Don’t take my word for it. Visit us at, access the Recipient Projects Map, and decide for yourself.

 – Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board

VIDEO: How To Use the Recipient Projects Map

New Lab for Testing Possibilities of Net-Zero Energy Homes

Posted in Recovery Projects/Awards by on September 24, 2012

Net-Zero Residence

It looks a lot like many other suburban homes. It’s even located in a popular suburban area – Gaithersburg, Maryland, just north of Washington, D.C. But it’s really a Recovery-funded laboratory, built specifically to allow researchers to test various high-efficiency and alternative energy systems, materials, and designs that would produce all the energy a residential home would need every day.

Officially called the Net-Zero Residential Test Facility, the recently completed lab will be home to researchers from the Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology. Over the course of a year the researchers, simulating a family of four, will test and demonstrate whether a net-zero energy home can fit in just about any neighborhood.

Approximately $2.5 million of Recovery funds paid for construction of the lab, which includes three types of geothermal systems so they can be evaluated in the same climate and soil types, and multiple ducting systems. Elaborate safety systems are also included, as they would be in any other lab.

The goal is to identify existing and new energy technologies that work best and most affordably in a home-environment.

An Inside Look at Recovery Oversight

Posted in Accountability by on September 18, 2012

Recovery Operations Center analysts use enhanced software and multiple data bases to find potential fraud.

The Recovery Board, when you get right down to it, has two principal jobs—giving taxpayers a close-up look at how Recovery money is being spent and ensuring that those dollars are not misused.

To accomplish the first job of transparency, the Board posts detailed information from recipients of Recovery Act funds on The second job—accountability—requires the Board to review many of those recipient reports and work closely with the federal Inspector General community to protect taxpayer dollars.

The Recovery Operations Center, an analysis facility based in our offices in Washington, serves as the heart of our oversight operation.  Known within the Board as the ROC, the center is an exceedingly useful analysis tool for the Board and for those in law enforcement, including Inspectors General. We also give access to the ROC to some federal agencies that fund Recovery contracts, grants, and loans.

Given that backdrop, I thought I would explain the history of the ROC and how we use it to keep fraudsters from running off with your tax money. The Board developed and launched the ROC in the early days of the Recovery program. The idea was pretty simple: We needed an analysis capability that would allow us to track $276 billion—the amount of taxpayer money allocated for contracts, grants, and loans that would be awarded to tens of thousands of recipients.

We weren’t looking to develop just another pay-and-chase oversight program that would detect fraud after all the money went out the door. Detection was part of the plan, of course, but our focus was on being pro-active—preventing criminals and other bad actors from ever getting their hands on Recovery funds. To do that, we decided to build a program that would identify potential risks early on—questionable activities and business practices, business owners with shady backgrounds, and other factors that could put taxpayer funds at risk.

But a serious oversight program required more than sophisticated computer technology that integrated 27 government and commercial datasets into a single analytical platform. Someone had to review and make sense of the data fed into that IT system. We set about finding a group of young analysts and trained them to scour the recipient data looking for risk factors in the backgrounds of recipients of Recovery funds.

Coupled with the strong work of the IG community and law enforcement agents around the country, the ROC has proved to be a very effective oversight tool the past three years. What have been the results? For a program with so much money in the pipeline, the fraud numbers are surprisingly low. All told, the latest statistics show, an estimated $11.1 million has been lost to fraud. The 29 IGs with Recovery oversight responsibility have more than 1,900 investigations under way; convictions and judgments total 598.Many of those IG inquiries are based on information referred by ROC analysts.

Meanwhile, we are continually helping agencies review sensitive procurement issues, including some with criminal potential sent to us by the Department of Justice and others in law enforcement. “The ROC allows the IGs and DOJ prosecutors to focus their assets better. They can target risks within a program,’’ says John McCarty, the Board’s Assistant Director for Law Enforcement Liaison. “The ROC allows you to build a case from a reasonable suspicion to probable cause—rapidly and with reliability.’’

Let’s take a look at some of the ROC’s results:

  • Working with the Veterans Benefit Administration, an arm of the Department of Veterans Affairs, ROC analysts discovered that veterans claimed more than 16,000 dependents with Social Security numbers matching those of dead people. We briefed the benefits agency on our findings.
  • In a separate review, conducted jointly with the Department of Veterans Affairs, ROC analysts found that more than 150 potential shell companies may have improperly received Recovery funds set aside for the Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business program. Our findings were forwarded to the relevant IGs for further review.
  • Acting on information supplied by a news reporter, ROC analysts identified nearly 30 potentially fraudulent Medicare providers operating in two dilapidated buildings. The information was provided to the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services.
  • ROC analysts discovered that more than 400 Recovery Act recipients of funds from 15 federal agencies had previously been terminated for default. Most certified incorrectly, some multiple times, that they had not been terminated for default.

The list could go on but suffice it to say that we are undertaking even more ambitious projects and handling dozens of requests for assistance from various federal agencies. Most involve Recovery funds but we are using the limited authority given to us by Congress to analyze other government spending projects unrelated to the Recovery program. What that tells you is this: The Recovery Board is taking the lead in providing strong oversight of the use of taxpayer funds.

Michael Wood, Executive Director, Recovery Board

Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool Reopens After Recovery Work

Posted in Recovery Projects/Awards by on September 10, 2012

September 2012 – Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool Renovations Are Complete

After nearly two years of renovation and rehabilitation, the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool reopened at the end of August.

Popular among the approximately 25 million people who visit the National Mall each year, the Reflecting Pool has also been the site of historic events, perhaps most notably involving civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech while overlooking the Reflecting Pool in 1963. And the famed contralto Marian Anderson, barred from singing at Constitution Hall in 1939 because she was African-American, held a widely attended outdoor concert on Easter Sunday that year by the Reflecting Pool.

Built in the 1920s, the pool had begun to crack and leak – at one point losing as many as 500,000 gallons of water a week. Lacking a circulation system, the 6.75-million-gallon pool also required draining, cleaning, and refilling twice every year.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) used $34 million of Recovery funding to repair and upgrade the Reflecting Pool and also install a circulation system. DOI officials note that the 580 granite stones that had been originally placed along the edges of the pool in the 1920s were catalogued and put back into place.

View more Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool photos

New Members of Government Accountability and Transparency Board

Posted in Accountability by on September 5, 2012

The Government Accountability and Transparency Board (GATB) recently welcomed three new members, including a new chairman:

Richard Ginman – New GATB chairman and Director of Defense Procurement and Acquisition Policy (DPAP), U.S. Department of Defense. Mr. Ginman has served in numerous defense-related positions, including as Principal Deputy Director of DPAP from 2008 to 2011 and as Deputy Director of four DPAP directorates from 2006 to 2011. Mr. Ginman retired from the U.S. Navy as a Rear Admiral in 2000 after a distinguished 30-year career.

Nani Coloretti – Acting Assistant Secretary for Management and also Deputy Assistant Secretary for Management and Budget, Department of the Treasury. Ms. Coloretti joined the Treasury Department in September 2009, and she most recently helped stand up the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau as its first Acting Chief Operating Officer.

The Honorable Gregory H. Friedman


Gregory Friedman – Inspector General, U.S. Department of Energy. In addition to his oversight duties at DOE, Mr. Friedman has been a member of the Recovery Board since its inception in 2009.



The GATB was established by Executive Order in June 2011 to identify guidelines for integrating systems that support the collection and display of government spending data, ensuring the reliability of that data, and broadening the deployment of fraud detection technologies, including those proven successful under the Recovery Act.

More about GATB


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers