Stimulus Oversight & Transparency: VP Biden, Orszag and Delaney
This morning, Vice President Biden, OMB director Peter Orszag and newly minted oversight tough guy Earl Delaney met with President Obama’s cabinet in the Roosevelt Room at the White House to go over the ground rules for increasing transparency for stimulus initiatives.
What follows is a transcript of their remarks this morning — thought folks would want a peek at this:
REMARKS BY THE VICE PRESIDENT
AT THE FIRST RECOVERY PLAN IMPLEMENTATION MEETING
9:42 A.M. EST
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks for being here. I know each one of the Cabinet members here has urgent business to attend to, but we’re meeting here today because the passage of the recovery act is just really the first step. We have to actually get this money out the door. We’ve got to make sure that we’re able to answer this economic crisis. And in order to do that, we’ve got to do something that’s somewhat unprecedented.
And that is — and we got to follow the money here in a way that we — it’s working exactly like we intended it to. How far and fast we travel on this road to recovery is going to depend a lot at the front of this — this is only one of three pieces the President laid out last night. The recovery act is not going to solve our problem. But if we don’t — if we don’t get this moving and get it moving well, it’s going to impede the ability of the Secretary of Treasury and the Director of OMB to do the two pieces they’re putting together, which are major chunks of the overall recovery the President talked about last night.
Already this week we’ve announced that 95 percent of Americans are going to see their paychecks go up because the withholding taxes are going to fall. And that will be no later than April 1st. And we’ve already announced that the first tranche of recovery money is being given to the states. Just 10 days after the bill was signed, $15 billion to help health care for children and seniors and the needy is already on the way.
And today, the Department of Housing and Urban Development is taking the first step to awarding $10 billion to state and local governments to fund and create jobs through projects making public housing more energy efficient, making improvements in affordable housing; and also, making sure that we actually begin to fund the lead-based paint removal program — all of which are going to not only increase the public health but — and energy efficiency — but they’re going to create jobs. And next week, we’ll have more announcements about the next step in getting our investments out the door and putting them to work creating jobs and beginning to grow this economy.
But the purpose of today’s meeting is the day after — hours after the President made his Joint Session speech — is to discuss the next steps — precisely how are we, the Cabinet members, going to be able to implement this legislation. From my consultation with some of you — and I’ve gotten a chance to meet with almost all of you directly and individually already — is that there’s an awful lot of conversations taking place between our staffs in the preparation to making sure this money is spent both quickly but efficiently.
So today’s purpose — you not only want to hear me talking to you — how you’re going to go about this. And we’re going to do this once a week, as we kick this thing off, to make sure we know exactly what we’re doing.
Again, this has never been done before. We’ve never been in a position where this much money with this much need with this much urgency is available, and the need for us to follow the money in ways we haven’t done before. And this is the first step. We’ve got to go through the same process, as you all know, with the governors and with the mayors and with all the recipients of these funds.
In the last week, President Obama and I have met with many of our nation’s governors and many of the mayors, and we reminded them all what this Economic Recovery Act is about: It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. It’s about giving people who are out of work or at the risk of losing their job or risk of losing their health care, to help them get through some tough times. And it’s about breaking ground for projects that have been long neglected or have been long needed — roads, bridges, dams, levees.
It’s about putting money into our schools. And it’s about investing in health care technology. It’s about making a real commitment to renewable energy, energy efficiency, stronger energy infrastructure, in the name of not only creating jobs, but also laying the foundation for a 21st century energy policy that frees us from dependence upon oligarchs of oil out there.
But above all — above all, it’s about creating and saving jobs now. And so I look forward to working with all of you, and — both individually and collectively — and with what’s going to be an accountability board. They said last night, don’t mess with Joe. Well, this is the guy to don’t mess with. (Laughter.)
I want to hear — and as we go along — all kidding aside, the purpose of this — I’m going to be a bit of a pain in the neck. I know you’ve got a thousand other things to do in your agencies. But we’re going to have — we’re going to do this weekly. We’re going to make sure that I know — you’ve got to let me know what roadblocks you encounter. You’ve got to let me know any way that, through the Vice President’s office, I can clear the way of some of the bureaucratic structures you’re running into; also, if you’re running into any headwind when you get out there in the states, you get out there in the cities. This is just a different deal.
Governor, I know you’ve done this as a governor. Those of you — Janet Napolitano is a governor, as well — you’re used to doing a lot of this. We’re going to be looking to you to figure out how we actually break the logjam of some of this.
What I don’t want to have — we’re going to have a web site up there — I don’t want to hear that we’ve sent money out to renovate a school in a particular city, in a particular state — it will be up there. All the press will see it on the web site. The neighbors and the community will see it. What I don’t want to see, Peter — I don’t want to get a phone calling saying, it’s been sitting there and nothing has happened for three weeks; now it’s five weeks; then it’s seven weeks. Well, I see two trucks there, but I don’t see anything happening.
We have got to make sure that we hold as many people accountable, not in a draconian way, but to actually get this done. And up to now, you’ve never had to — we’ve never had to sort of follow the dollar — follow the dollar beyond where we ordinarily — other than meeting the criteria, does the state, the county, and the city qualify for it; we cut the check. Well, we’re going to be more intrusive than that on cutting the check.
And so every person that any federal dollar flows through has a responsibility to see it’s used well. And so it’s the fact that millions of Americans are struggling just to get by, that this should be an incentive to ensure that the money we spend is spent well.
And I told the governors — and maybe it’s because I’m a little too blunt — but I told the governors and told the mayors — who I think have the best intentions in the world; they know how badly it’s needed — Republican governors and Democratic governors — but we may sometimes not have the legal authority once we cut the check to do much about it. But I’ll tell you what, the moral disapprobation of this office will be used if the money is not being out there spent. I’m going to go on television and say, we gave so-and-so X amount of dollars and nothing is happening — why hasn’t it happened?
I mean, this is — this is — as I said, we’ve never done this before. So the President has appointed one of our toughest Inspector Generals. I’ll not go into Earl’s background, but all of you around this table know him. He’s a no-nonsense guy. And he’s going to be helping me and Peter and all of us here follow the money to ensure that it’s actually — it’s actually getting out there and working.
So I’m pleased to be working with two people who are way ahead on this already. And I don’t know how this guy finds any time to do anything. I tell him, he’s got the most wonderful job in the administration, handling the budget.
But what I’m going to do now is turn this over to Peter. I know that the Secretary of Treasury has to go in to see the President right now. Peter is going to have to go in, too. But, Peter, I yield to you for some remarks. And then I’m going to yield, if I can, to Earl. And then we’ll get down to business.
DIRECTOR ORSZAG: Well, thank you, Mr. Vice President. I think I just want to emphasize two aspects of the undertaking that we’re facing. If we are to achieve the President’s goal of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs through this legislation, we need to make sure the money gets out quickly, and also wisely.
And the first principle of getting the money out the door quickly — you’ve already spoken about the fact that the first tranche of the relief to states for Medicaid expenses will be made available through the Department of HHS today. Over the next couple weeks, you will also money becoming available in food stamps, unemployment insurance, low-income housing tax credits, law enforcement grants, transportation funding and a variety of other areas.
I saw the governors over the weekend, and I made it clear to them that we will work with them to expedite, provide clear guidance quickly in terms of getting the money out the door, but that, in exchange, we need them to be clear that they’re not to park the money in rainy-day funds, which would undermine the purpose of the act and not add to aggregate demand. And they should not use this funding to pay for projects that are basically already done, unless it’s very clear the project had absolutely stopped and would not proceed without this money.
The second part of what we need to do, though, is we need to make sure the money is spent very wisely, and that will speak to the accountability and transparency. We are asking the taxpayers for their help in getting the economy out of this recession, and in exchange they deserve accountability and transparency.
We’ve already stood up a web site, recovery.gov, which I’m told is receiving 3,000 hits a second, which I think underscores the interest in the accountability and transparency surrounding this endeavor.
OMB has also published detailed guidance to all of the agencies, including everyone here, about how to implement the recovery act in a transparent — in a transparent manner. We have to go beyond normal procedures to a higher level of transparency.
In addition to additional reporting, which all of you have already received guidance on, I would identify the need for sufficient numbers of acquisition and contract officers to oversee the money flowing through the system, to make sure that it is well spent.
So in conclusion, I just would underscore I look forward to working with you and Mr. Devaney and others to make sure we get the money out the door quickly, but also that the money is spent wisely so that we get as much bang for the buck as we can from this historic undertaking.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thanks.
MR. DEVANEY: Mr. Vice President, thank you very much. As you know, I’ve been on the job two days, and I’ve managed to read the recovery act and all of Peter’s OMB guidance, and it’s a monument task ahead.
I would say that the two goals, if you will, of the accountability board, as Peter mentioned, a big piece of this is the recovery.gov web site. OMB has gotten that up and running, and I think I’ll be at some point taking that over and trying to build that into what it’s intended to be. It’s an historic web site that will allow transparency that we’ve never seen before. And the goal — my goal will be for the average citizen to be able to go on that web site and follow the money.
And in large part I think I’ll be hearing a lot from citizens, as you mentioned, if they see things that they don’t like, and hopefully we’ll get some attention to misuse of any of this money.
The second piece of this is to prevent fraud and waste. And I carefully use the word "prevent" because I think in — if we were going to do this business as usual, IGs would be detecting fraud and waste, as opposed to preventing fraud and waste. I was encouraged last week to attend a meeting of the all of the IGs that have stimulus money in their departments, and was delighted to see that everybody seems to be focusing on trying to prevent waste and fraud, as opposed to just simply detecting it and doing investigations and audits.
So I’m sure those will happen, but on the front end of that pipeline, IG is standing there alongside of the departments. Preventing that waste is I think the way to go and that’s what I’m going to be encouraging all the IGs on the board to do.
There are some challenges. I’ll just name one. Peter mentioned the lack of resources in procurement work. Pre-9/11 we had about $200 million — $220 million worth of contracts per year government-wide, and now we have over $500 billion. And at the same — during the same amount of time the procurement staffs have not risen in the departments; they’ve stayed the same. So that will be a major challenge for all of the Secretaries to address, to make sure that the staff is available to make this happen quickly and to monitor it once it goes out.
So I’m excited about the opportunity. I know the IGs that are on this board are looking forward to participating and I’m encouraged by the fact that it’s — everybody is treating this — and my observation is the departments are, as well — as not business as usual and something that we’re going to bring unique talents to that we haven’t perhaps done in the past.
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Look, let me conclude, because I know you’ve got to — I know you have to go, and then we can get into some detail here.
One of the primary roles that I am to play in overseeing this is to be the vehicle for you to let know what you need: What is it that you need in order to be able to get this job done; if you need to take it the President and me then to go from there to get you what you need to be able to do the job.
For example, procurement officers — it’s going to be a problem; many of you do not have your second-level staff folks, you know, the second tier helping you to move the process up on the Hill. And so I’m going to be asking once a week for a report. There’s already one — Peter, I’m going to ask you to get a report to me from each of your departments once a week, what you did last week, what you plan on doing this week, what it’s going to look like next week, what help do you need, where’s the shortfall — just literally, literally a week-to-week update on the progress and your needs, as well as the progress you’re making.
And, you know, we’ve encouraged and Peter has gone out there, and we all have, talking about — and each of the states will essentially appoint their own IG, their own person who is going to be responsible for all this money coming through. I’m going to be inviting all 50 of those people here to Washington in the next couple weeks, when they’re saddled up, and to sit down, and with the help of these two men, sit there and go through with those 50, essentially, counterparts to us in each of the states. We want to know what they’re doing, how it administrates with us and how we can help them.
This is a monumental project, but I think it’s doable. As you said, we got to stay on top of it and we got to stay on top of it on a weekly basis, because this is about getting this out and spent in 18 months to create 3.5 million jobs and to set — tee this up so the rest of the good work that’s being done here literally drop-kicks us out of this recession and we begin to grow again — begin to grow again.
So let’s — I thank the press for being here. We’re going to get down to some of the nitty-gritty as to how we’re going to proceed, and thank you all for coming in. And you’ll be reporting here regularly.
END 9:57 A.M. EST