If every transparency effort is like a window pane, and you begin to layer them one on top of the other, how long until the process becomes too opaque … until the desired transparency gives way to fog?
Essentially, this is the question I posed in a letter to the Governor on state stimulus funding. Right now there is a whole menu of programs at various agencies and various levels of government. Just take a look at the online resources:
We have the Mayor’s Stimulus Tracker in New York City.
We have the Governor’s Economic Recovery website.
We have the Comptroller’s Open Book.
And of course we have the President’s main Recovery.gov.
It seems to me all of these sites are looking to track stimulus investments … without any sort of consolidated effort.
So you can map out projects on the Stimulus Tracker, you can check out some technical strokes (albeit broad strokes) of genius on the national site, you can scroll through more than 700 pages of submitted applications on the Governor’s site, but there is still no framework in place to "drill down" the most important data on projects that are ultimately approved.
How many full-time jobs are being created? How many part-time jobs? Who are the contractors? Who are the sub-contractors? Is the project meeting its stated goals?
Moreover, how exactly can I follow the money from the U.S. Treasury, down to the State, then the municipality, and right to the pothole being fixed outside my (proverbial) front door?
In the letter I sent to the Governor, co-signed by 15 colleagues in the Senate – Assemblyman Michael N. Gianaris led the effort in his chamber – I requested an independent stimulus monitor, improved online infrastructure, and a more open and participatory decision-making process.
We think the Governor has done a tremendous job helping to secure stimulus funds (more than $24 billion) for New York. Now we can take it to the next level and be on the front lines of accountability.
The foundation for this is largely in place, thanks to the NYS Stimulus Oversight Working Group. Led by Common Cause, the Working Group is an ideologically diverse body that has been able to forge an impressive list of Common Principles.
The idea for the stimulus monitor comes from California, where Governor Schwarzenegger appointed L.A. City Controller Laura Chick to focus exclusively on the federal money and make sure it’s getting exactly where it needs to go.
Now, the last thing we need is to create new bureaucracy. But I believe that an indy stimulus monitor will help to channel existing resources, energy, knowledge and experience into a single place. It means that other state administrators can remain focused on their own responsibilities – particularly in an economic crisis – without being thrown off track by the massive infusion of federal dollars.
At a time when government is expanding its role, we need to do everything we can to make sure that we inspire confidence in that role.
New York must position itself as the gold standard of stimulus accountability, especially if more funding ever materializes – be it new programs from Washington or stimulus reject funds from more conservative state governments.
It’d be a powerful message: We don’t just need the money, we know best how to spend it.
Senator José M. Serrano represents the 28th District, which includes parts of the South Bronx, Highbridge, University Heights, East Harlem, Yorkville, and Roosevelt Island.
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