Stuffing An Elephant Down A Snake's Throat
Now that President Obama has rammed through his $787 billion stimulus package -- or American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) -- the money needs to doled out, and rather quickly to have the desired effect of resuscitating the U.S. economy.
However, spending the money may not be so easy. According to a New York Times story, the infrastructure to dispense funding is not in great condition:
"The once efficient Obama transition has ground to a near standstill after tax problems bedeviled several of his nominees, leaving the top echelon of his government largely unassembled. Three cabinet jobs remain unfilled, only 2 of the 15 cabinet departments have deputy secretaries confirmed, and the vast majority of lower-level political jobs remain vacant.
"The slowdown seems to stem both from the administration's sharpening its vetting process after losing several nominees and from Senate committees' taking more time to consider names that have been sent to Capitol Hill. As a result, the very departments charged with executing one of the largest spending projects in American history are operating largely with career stand-ins without the authority of political appointees."
The Obama team countered that each agency doling out stimulus money has an administrator to ensure the money moves through the system quickly, which in itself would be a minor miracle. In addition, they say the bureaucrats ("career stand-ins" in the NYT article) manning agencies left over from the Bush administration won't be an obstacle to progress."
Even if the Obama team has a viable plan to distribute the funding, it will be like stuffing an elephant down a snake's throat. The bureaucratic infrastructure is by no means frictionless, and it will take months if not years to deploy the internal controls and oversight mechanisms that would ensure that the money is spent according to plan and delivers the desired results in the desired time frames.
The government promises that the citizens funding the AARA will be able to see who is getting the billions and how it is being spent at the Recovery.gov site. Given the problems with governments accounting systems in the past, such as the spend in Iraq, many will wonder if what is transparent in the AARA will be accurate.
Daniel Farber is editor-in-chief of CBSNews.com.
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