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White House Recovery Act Implementation Conference for Governors

Page history last edited by Faye Anderson 10 years, 9 months ago

WHITE HOUSE PRESS RELEASE

March 6, 2009

 

President Obama and Vice President Biden to Hold Recovery Act Implementation Conference

 

Washington, DC – On Thursday, March 12th, President Obama and Vice President Biden will hold a White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference to ensure that dollars invested and spent as part of the Recovery act are effective, transparent and efficient.  Each state’s Governor is being invited to send their senior official working on Recovery Act implementation to learn about what programs and initiatives are available under the Act.  The conference will be a chance for state officials to bring forward ideas and share best practices, as well as hear presentations from a number of Cabinet Secretaries and Administration officials, including Earl Devaney, Chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board. 

 

“States have a huge responsibility in partnering with us to ensure that dollars spent as part of the Recovery Act are spent wisely, with transparency and accountability,” said Vice President Joe Biden.  “We’re giving each state a chance to send a high-level representative to interact first-hand with top officials here in Washington. Our hope for this conference is to meet face-to-face with the state officials and streamline this implementation process so we can get our economy running again.” 

 

Additional details about the conference will be released at a later date are available here

 

Remarks by the President at the Recovery Act Implementation Conference

 

Opening Remarks by the Vice President at the White House Recovery and Reinvestment Act Implementation Conference

 

Agency Presentations

 

Pool Report No. 1 from the Opening of the all-day American Recovery and Reinvestment Act conference

Highlights:

 

Biden: Said he and Obama will release regulations Friday to restrict the spending of stimulus money even more than the law allows.

 

"No swimming pools in this money."

 

Biden also repeatedly warned that states' ability to get future money out of Congress is on the line in the way they spend this money.

 

"If we don't get this right folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince the Congress that anything should go to the states."

 

Details:

 

Per the White House and an audience member, the audience was a chief coordinating officer, chief of staff or top budget official from each state. Biden said 49 of 50 states sent someone, though he didn't say which state didn't.

 

The room was EEOB 450, the auditorium-style room with the blue theater seats and blue curtains.

 

At 9:25 Sean McGrath, Deputy Director for the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, gave a schedule of affairs that included a warning to the group. Apparently some had been told there would be no press, and he told them in fact press was here.

 

"The press corps is here. It will be a smaller group in the back, and so all of your comments will be on the record."

 

Energy Secretary Chu and the vice president walked out at 9:43, both in dark suits. Biden had a green tie, Chu had a light blue necktie.

Chu said from the energy standpoint, "we will have a wonderful chance to show the green economy works."

 

He also said homeowners will be able to evaluate how well the work is going when they open up their energy bill: "Our success or failure wil be on the page in black and white"

 

Chu introduced the VP at 9:46, repeating Obama's claim from the address to Congress that "nobody messes with Joe." Chu called him "both the watchdog and the bulldog."

 

Transcript will come, and please check these quotes against it, but here are the highlights from Biden, who spoke from notes, not a teleprompter. He spoke for 14 minutes.

 

He said he and the president will announce regulations to control what types of spending aren't allowed.

 

"We have asked a lot of the American people, a great deal of the American people in supporting this effort and so this is a different deal. This is not your usual federal grant going to the state."

 

"Just because it may be legal, it is not acceptable, some of it."

 

"No swimming pools in this money."

 

Biden repeatedly warned the officials that states will be closely watched and held accountable, and said their future federal money depends on them getting this right.

 

"If we don't get this right folks, this is the end of the opportunity to convince the Congress that anything should go to the states."

 

He told the officials to tell their governors that if any of them have problems, to call him directly.

 

"I'm used to being accessible. I really mean it. Have your governors call me, and we'll get it straightened out because we've got to get it right."

 

Biden also said the Great Depression may have come first, but "it was not as complicated as this is."

 

Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

 

Pool Report No. 2 from the Opening of the all-day American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Conference

 

After the vice president left the recovery conference, the rest of the morning was spent hearing from OMB, Department of Energy, HHS and Department of Education officials.

 

About 125 state officials were in the room, which made it almost completely filled. The format was federal officials would speak about their departments' progress in doling out money and about upcoming deadlines, then take questions.

 

Up first after Biden was Rob Nabors, deputy director of OMB, who actually went right to questions, taking about 25 of them.

 

Most of the questions - both for Nabors and the other officials - were simply too much for your poor pooler's brain to understand, so please excuse my limited comprehension. Also please excuse the lack of names associated with questions — because of the format and the rapid-fire questions, it was impossible to get any names.

 

Among the questions your pooler did comprehend were:

 

* The very first question after Biden spoke was asking Nabors to clarify the VP's statement that "Just because it may be legal, it is not acceptable -- some of it."

 

Nabors said he didn't want to get out in front of the announcement Biden said was coming later this week, but repeated that they will rule out certain things from being funded.

 

* A woman asked about how the states should count the number of jobs created — Nabors said they're working on that.

 

* A man asked when they'll get schedules for what they should apply for, and said there was "a lot of insecurity about 'have we missed the boat.'"

 

"Right now we're really struggling to try to penetrate individual agencies," he said. He also said: "Communication to the governors in particular has been really spotty."

 

Nabors said they are still getting up to speed on the reporting deadlines Congress has required and how to communicate with the states.

 

* Several people said money was included for federal agencies to administer and audit funds, and asked what money was included in the bill for states.

 

Nabors said OMB will have to talk to Congress to see what they intended and what they will allow.

 

President Obama ducked into the meeting at 11:09. You all already have pool report and transcript from that appearance.

 

Other things worth noting, for those who care:

 

Matt Rogers, senior advisor to the Energy secretary for recovery act spending, said they define money being spent as when it is "costed."

 

"It must be costed. So we are going to obligate the funds to you and then those funds must be costed - you must have committed to spend the funds beyond that."

 

Others who spoke in the morning session were Richard Turman, deputy assistant secretary for budget at HHS and Dennis Williams, deputy assistant secretary for recovery act coordination at HHS; and Tony Miller, chief operating officer at the Department of Education.

 

There were presentations and paper from each official. I have them available if anyone wants a copy/to take a look.

 

Finally, per a VP aide, the one state that didn't send anyone to the conference was Idaho: "Idaho didn't have the resources to send someone to today's conference."

 

Stephen Dinan

The Washington Times

 

Pool Report No. 3 from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Conference

 

Summary of remarks from Valerie Jarrett and presentation by reps from Transportation, Agriculture, Justice, Interior, HUD, Labor, and EPA.  In the last pool report, I'll include the DHS presentation along with remarks from Earl Devaney, chairman of the RAT board. I wanted to get this out before it got too late.

 

No real news, though twin themes emerged. The White House and agency reps issued dire warnings about what will happen if states misuse or waste stimulus money. And state reps, continuing a theme from the morning, expressed confusion about what role states will play when it comes to getting stimulus money to localities, what reporting requirements they'll face, and said there has been a lack of communication so far between the feds and the state government about projects that have so far been announced.

 

"You're giving governors a lot of responsibility to administer it, but we're not always kept in the loop," said a representative from New Hampshire who refused to give me her name when I went and asked.

 

However, on the list of attendees, the only female representative from New Hampshire was Pamela Walsh, deputy chief of staff to Gov. Lynch.

 

The afternoon session (1 p.m. to 5:30) began with another pep talk from a top White House official. Valerie Jarrett popped in and out to give a short speech about how important it is for the states to steward the stimulus funds responsibly.

 

"In the event that we have missteps, you can be sure that those will be the ones that the press focuses on ... so we just have to make sure we are flawless in the execution," Jarrett said.

 

Jarrett also pointed out that while Biden is directing the oversight of stimulus spending, along with Earl Devaney, Cecilia Munoz from intergovernmental affairs is the point of contact for the state czars who have been appointed by governors to oversee their state's receipt and disbursement of the billions of dollars.

 

"I hope she will become a familiar face to you," Jarrett said of Munoz, who stayed at least for the first 30 minute presentation from the Transportation Department.

 

"In terms of day to day business, feel free to reach out to Cecilia and the rest of the members of her team," Jarrett said.

 

Each of the agencies presented and took questions for about 30 minutes. First up: Transportation, with their motherlode of infrastructure spending.

 

Adm. Thomas Barrett, deputy secretary, stood at podium but deflected a lot of questions to Joel Szabat, deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, and associate highway administrator Gloria Shepherd.

 

Barrett also emphasized the need to avoid screwups.

 

"Frankly we cannot afford to fail on this ... There is no room for projects that are going to look stupid or be stupid .. I just encourage you, please pay attention," he said.

 

"It's buying the spa treatments and charging it to a federal contract," Barrett said, somewhat jarringly.

 

Barrett then faced a number of questions about reporting requirements and whether state governments and state transit agencies are going to both be doing reporting to the feds, and whether that might be duplicative.

 

Shepherd said states should do reporting on how they spend money but one state rep said transit agencies are saying they are going to do the reporting, adding that "it's sort of like there's a disconnect."

 

There was more back and forth, and Barrett said, "if there's confusion on it," and was cut off by one of the state reps: "There certainly is."

 

Another man asked how and why Maryland has already started transportation projects under stimulus, going back to the morning session's theme where some states are nervous they've missed opportunities to fund projects, or are behind the curve.

 

"They started using their own money," Barrett said.

 

"So we can do that?" the man said.

 

"If you have the money," Barrett said.

 

Baznat said that if contracts have been awarded on or after Feb. 19, the day the stimulus passed, they could be eligible for reimbursement underthe program, but that this will have to go through a clearance process, and said this is a risk.

 

Carole Jett, deputy chief of staff at agriculture, was up next. She faced a barrage of questions about how the federal government is going to notify state governments and governor's offices when state agencies receive funding under the program.

 

Shaun McGrath, Cecilia Munoz's deputy for governors, asked Danny Wuerffel (spelling?) from OMB, who was sitting in the back, whether when a grant was handed out, whether there is "a way to notify the states that that has actually happened."

 

Wuerffel tried to answer, but when he asked if that had helped, a large murmur rose up from the room, with people saying, basically, no.

 

The New Hampshire rep gave an example of a $6 million grant to an agency in her state announced, I think by the federal government, that they were getting calls about but didn't know about.

 

"You're giving governors a lot of responsibility to administer it, but we're not always kept in the loop," she said.

 

"So the issue is an advanced timeline of things coming down the pike?" Wuerffel asked.

 

Another state rep said: "I think it's pretty simple. Any time you're going to tell the congressional delegation, tell us at the same time." The room cracked up.

 

Laurie Robinson's Justice presentation and Chris Henderson's Interior presentation were uneventful, though one state rep reminded Henderson, a senior adviser to the secretary for economic recovery, that governor's offices should be notified of projects: "If there are ribbon cuttings we'd like to promote them."

 

Bruce Katz, on loan from the Brookings Institution to HUD, was a few minutes late, so Wuerffel came up and answered some more questions.

 

Wuerffel said that OMB is "working, sometimes through the night" to figure out how to collect information on usage of the stimulus money and how to make it reportable.

 

"Once we get the information how do we process it and turn it into presentations on recovery.gov?" he said.

 

OMB is getting different opinions on how to do this from federal agencies and state governments, Wuerffel said, but they hope to have guidance out within one month.

 

Katz's presentation did not involve anything that stood out, though I have his handout (along with all or most of the others) if anyone wants to look at it.

 

Raymond Uhalde, senior advisor, office of the secretary of labor, was up next. I missed most of that because I was taking down all the names of attendees. I did not get his handout.

 

The EPA's Craig Hooks, acting asst administrator, was second to last. He said they were "almost ready to put our grant guides out the door" but said they were still waiting from guidance on a few details from OMB.

 

One of Hooks' slides had an acronym: LUST. Leaking Underground Storage Tanks.  - $200 million to clean up spills of petroleum from federally regulated tanks.

 

"We try never to say that one in public," Hooks said.

 

Jon Ward

White House Report

The Washington Times

 

Pool Report No. 4 from American Recovery and Reinvestment Act Conference

 

Summary of remarks by DHS rep, Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, and Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board (RAT Board).

 

News: Devaney warned of a naive belief that because the Obama White House is striving for maximum transparency and accountability, there won't be any fraud, waste or abuse.

 

Devaney said there will be some losses of taxpayer money due to mismanagement or corruption,  simply because it's such a large pot of money, and that his goal is to work tirelessly to reduce those losses to the lowest level humanly possible.

 

I'm afraid that there may be a naïve impression that given the amount of transparency and accountability called for by this act, no or little fraud will occur.  My 38 years of federal enforcement experience tells me that some level of waste and fraud is unfortunately inevitable, Devaney said.

 

Obviously the challenge for all of us, especially those charged with oversight, will be to significantly minimize such loss. My promise to all of you today is that my staff, members of the board, I will work tirelessly to reduce those losses to the lowest level humanly possible.

 

Dodaro also announced that 16 states will receive two thirds of the stimulus money: arizona, ca, co, fla, ga, iowa, ill, mass, mich, miss, nc, nj, ny, ohio, penn, tx and dc.

 

Devaney also said he is eager to bring the recovery.gov website fully under the control of the RAT board, but that the site will not be where it needs to be for full transparency and accessibility for at least a year.

 

It's probably going to be a year or a year and a half from now before we get this website right, Devaney said.

 

One state rep pointed out that with all the data, and all the multiple state and local websites complimenting the federal recovery.gov, there is a potential for an overload of information and for discrepancies between the websites to poke a hole in transparency efforts.

 

Devaney said this is obviously one of the big issues.

 

It's got to make sense, he said of the site.

 

Another rep from Vermont said that there are numbers for job creation on recovery.gov that are made up.

 

Devaney said this whole jobs thing has got me very nervous because there are many different ways to define a saved or created job.

 

We need to all be playing off the same sheet of music, Devaney said. If I'm going to be held accountable for this website, and there's a graph in there that talks about jobs created or saved, it's going to be as accurate as I can get it.

 

As for the RAT board's name, Devaney said: I kind of wish I'd had a bit more input on that name.

 

The role of the RAT board, Devaney said, will be mostly coordinating states with the IG offices of the 16 agencies, and trying to detect and help states detect where fraud or waste might be occurring.

 

He wants to play on the front end of the pipeline, he said.

 

Michael Enright, from Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley's office, asked Devaney what pots of money worry you most?

 

Enright said that the weatherization pot, because it is a new project that states do not have experience with, gives me a little pause.

 

All right, so it gives me pause too, Devaney said a bit reluctantly, prompting laughter.

 

One of the overriding concerns from the state reps was their inability to pay for state auditing abilities.

 

Multiple reps told Devaney and Dodaro that they are hiring private sector personnel to do oversight of spending, or that they don't know how they're going to pay for it.

 

Peter N. Hiebert, a D.C. attorney representing the Virgin Islands, said that most states have set up recovery offices to oversee this but don't have the ability to fund that.

 

I don't want to point fingers but Gene and I didn't craft that legislation, Devaney said.

 

Hiebert and others proposed that Congress rejigger the legislation to funnel some money to states for their audit costs.

 

Brian DeVallance, from DHS, was the last speaker of the day before Devaney.

 

The room had thinned out somewhat by that time and DeVallance was aware that his audience was likely very tired.

 

The only thing worse than speaking at 4 o’clock of an event that started at 9 is probably listening, he said.

 

Jon Ward

White House Reporter

The Washington Times

 

News Stories

States: We'll take stimulus - our way

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