Tracking the stimulus

That burden falls to federal agencies, administration officials and state and local governments. The first reporting deadline is Oct. 10 and both the House and Senate have been holding hearings to scrutinize every dollar spent. That oversight — while meant to ensure honesty and transparency — is putting undue pressure on states.

Why? State hiring freezes, the use of incompatible accounting software, delays in final decisions on reporting metrics from the federal government, and vocal citizen sites like could potentially turn the gift of the stimulus into a nightmare.

Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, have introduced companion legislation to amend the stimulus bill to set aside funding for state and local governments for planning and oversight. The House passed its bill while the Senate bill is pending.

A large part of the preventative cure is in technology. The use of business intelligence and performance management technologies can help agencies monitor and measure fund receipts and disbursements in real time, as well as track each program’s progress and report back results to funding organizations.

For instance, if a stimulus fund project has reached 56 percent of completion but the managing agency has already spent 66 percent of the funds, the system will immediately notify the manager.

Before the advent of this technology, the immediate notification — and chance to rectify the problem before the project was completed — did not exist.

As the state of Arkansas is discovering, these benefits are not theoretical. Increasingly, thanks to Web-based “dashboards” that are based on business intelligence and performance management technologies, these benefits are real.

With IBM’s help, Arkansas is the first state to institute and use such a technology as its Department of Education is in the midst of spending approximately $570 million in stimulus money.

The funds are being used in public schools to improve students’ academic performance, to narrow the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students, to provide specialized services for low-income students and those with disabilities, to create facilities that promote student learning and to expand the use of educational technology.

Federal, state and local government officials responsible for identifying initiatives and pinpointing economic recovery funds can use this technology. It is also helpful for those officials charged with executing, measuring and reporting on complex programs. It’s based on secure yet open software that enables a completely integrated exchange of spending information to monitor funding, track key performance indicators, analyze effectiveness and increase transparency and accountability.

In other words, this latest technology will ensure oversight and minimize risk by helping choose the best projects, managing grants and contracts, tracking allocations and overseeing spending, and reporting on outcomes.

The Obama administration has already begun using this approach to track and analyze spending. Most notably, the administration’s chief information officer, Vivek Kundra, has introduced a website to help monitor federal government spending on information technology and increase accountability.

As government organizations allocate funds, they can earn the trust of taxpayers and legislators by ensuring the money actually contributes to our recovery. Fortunately, technology is now at hand to make this goal far more possible.

Prow is managing partner, public sector, IBM Global Business Services.