Stimulus reporting–more dead trees don’t help you see the forest

There’s been a lot of news about stimulus reporting the last few weeks. A lot of it has focused on jobs created or saved; that’s understandable since that was a major point of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is the stimulus’ grown-up name. The federal stimulus web site,,  has posted the first compilation of stimulus grants, loans, and contracts, which covers the first six months under the act. The reports exclude funds allocated directly to individuals through such mechanisms as increased food stamp benefits, extended Unemployment Insurance, Medicaid payments, and tax cuts.

The STAR Coalition of organizations promoting accountability in the recovery praised this effort:

Our groups can now follow the money in ways they never could before and will use it to engage their policy-makers and build a recovery that benefit communities. We will also use the data to actively engage the public to better understand how the Recovery Act is impacting our communities, and how taxpayers can advocate to improve the Recovery Act and other government investments in the future.

The coalition expressed some reservations about the reporting effort, especially as it treats jobs. There are some great features to stimulus reporting and I think it’s worth your time to look around. On this page is a great national summary that tells you which states are getting jobs and spending money, and how far along the projects are (not very). This map will help you learn more about ARRA’s impact on Oklahoma. So far it’s  saved or created 8,764 jobs, according to the agencies and companies that were awarded funding. The map even lets you find projects in your own neighborhood by entering your zip code. There’s also a good state summary page.

Unless you are smarter and/or more stubborn than I, however, there are also lots of things you can’t find. If you want one list of all the grants and contracts in Oklahoma, you have your work cut out. The two options I saw were either to browse through hundreds of pages of grants without totals, or else to download, combine, and sort several very large spreadsheet files. I left this experience confident that we have a general picture of what the stimulus is doing for the nation and our state, but not sure I could find results for a specific program or a specific school district. I also had lots of questions about definitions and how reliable the reports might be; there’s no effort to address these issues on the site.

STAR recently posted a blog entry summarizing what some of their members and related state organizations are finding as they dig through the data more carefully. Among the concerns are that some states seem to be under-reporting the jobs they’ve created, that most of the jobs saved are attributed to capital cities, and that there is no reporting on grant applications that are still in process. They (and I) may be asking for too much reporting and detail, but there’s already plenty being reported that is not all that informative, so it might be worth shifting gears for the next set of reports.

The stimulus promised untold and previously unforeseen transparency and accountability. So far, each new step brings more reports, but fails to fulfill the promise. The stimulus could, and in our view almost certainly is, making a difference in Oklahoma’s economy and investing in a brighter future. We just don’t know how exactly to find out yet.


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.

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