WE HAD our worries about President Obama's American Recovery Act from the time it was announced that $787 billion would be released to states and cities.
Not because it wasn't a good idea to unleash wads of cash to stimulate the economy and create lots of jobs, but because from the beginning, the directive was to spend the money as quickly as possible. Governments, large piles of money and speed are never a good combination.
Now, the news of how the city has done so far on managing the process of getting that federal money brings a new worry. This week, the Daily News reported on the details of a memo sent to Mayor Nutter on the first local reporting milestone for the Recovery Act that paints a disturbing picture: for too long, no one has been in charge of overseeing the city's Recovery Act process, and the lack of central coordination means departments have competed with each other in applying for funds and have not always followed federal procedures for reporting; there has been no single authority signing off on applications. This could jeopardize the city's ability to get a share of the money. The memo came from Budget Director Steve Agostini, who was also appointed as the city's recovery officer in August and who has spent months trying to better organize the process.
So far, the city has applied for $310 million in funds and has been awarded $157 million; of that $13.6 million has been received and the city has spent $700,000. Federal boondoggles have created delays in getting the money. But with this amount of money at stake, it's hard to understand why a dedicated manager for the Recovery wasn't, and isn't, a priority for the city. (For an idea of how another city handles the process, see www.ourmoneyphilly.com)
All this leads to a bigger worry: maybe we don't have just a stimulus problelm, but a governing problem. The city's Recovery Act performance- with no one is in charge, decentralized departments not communicating with each other, and the fear that big opportunities are being squandered - have been worries similarily expressed about the Nutter administration for a while now. Is the stimulus problem a symptom of a problem within the administration?
Strong leadership from the mayor - by delegating do-or-die responsibility for big and critical functions, instead of making them part-time jobs, would be a good way to start fixing this. *