Is spending the easy part? Stimulus transparency is opaque

As the debate about the speed and impact of stimulus spending rages on, Good Jobs First is taking on the less glamorous but equally important task of assessing accountability in state spending of funds from the stimulus bill (more formally, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA). They’ve launched the STAR (States for a Transparent and Accountable Recovery) Coalition, a national web site that assesses state efforts to inform citizens about ARRA spending.

Accountability is essential for any government program. Taxpayers cannot determine whether their resources are being used appropriately unless they can tell what is being spent, where it is spent, who is benefiting from the spending, and what is being accomplished. Congress and President Obama built unprecedented accountability tools into ARRA. If carried out faithfully, these tools will help us determine not just if the stimulus money is spent fast, but if it is spent right.

This week, STAR released a report that gave states two grades – one for a state’s main ARRA website and one for its reporting on transportation spending. Results are mixed.

Some state ARRA sites support the President’s promise that the $787 billion stimulus plan will be carried out with “an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability.” Other state sites are half-hearted efforts that provide residents little useful data on the largest federal stimulus since the New Deal.

Oklahoma comes out below average in STAR’s ratings. Oklahoma’s main site does a good job of centralizing program information and showing how funds are allocated in the state, but falls short in showing where money is being spent, which projects are being funded, and who is getting contracts. To this, we’d add that the site has an excellent compendium of news releases on the stimulus, but the site is  not always kept up to date.

The Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT) site fares better in STAR’s rating, but still lags behind other states. It provides detail on individual projects and contracts, but offers no summary information on how much is being spent in a county, with a single contractor, or even how much is for new roads vs. resurfacing.

Also this week, OK Policy released its  second Stimulus Update, which evaluates over $700 million in ARRA infrastructure funding in Oklahoma. Nearly $400 million in Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT)  projects, mainly resurfacing of state highways, are under contract and spending has topped $40 million. Federal, state, local, and tribal governments will be replacing buses, rehabilitating airport runways and dams and flood control structures, and expanding water and waste water systems. Infrastructure programs, which make up eight percent of all ARRA spending, can help Oklahoma’s economic recovery and pave the way for economic growth and lower costs in the future. With improvements in our accountability efforts, we’ll be able to tell when and where projects are being funded, who is building them, and what they are accomplishing.

Our stimulus page includes the previous Stimulus Update, as well as our earlier stimulus issue brief and fact sheet and links to valuable ARRA resources.


Paul Shinn

Paul Shinn served as Budget and Tax Senior Policy Analyst with OK Policy from May 2019 until December 2021. Before joining OK Policy, Shinn held budget and finance positions for the Oklahoma House of Representatives, the Department of Human Services, the cities of Oklahoma City and Del City and several local governments in his native Oregon. He also taught political science and public administration at the University of Oklahoma, University of Central Oklahoma, and California State University Stanislaus. While with the Government Finance Officers Association, Paul worked on consulting and research projects for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and several state agencies and local governments. He also served as policy analyst for CAP Tulsa. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from University of Oklahoma and degrees from the University of Oregon and the University of Maryland College Park. He lives in Oklahoma City with his wife Carmelita.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.