Tracking the Stimulus
Originally Published in Statewise Summer 2009
by Barbara Neyens
Managing the billions of dollars of federal funding that come to Texas each year is a big job. But this year, the Comptroller's office faces a new challenge: tracking the disbursement, spending and accounting of several billion dollars more that will be allocated as a result of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), the federal stimulus plan meant to jump-start the economy out of its current slump.
This unprecedented level of funding is coming from multiple federal agencies, and state agencies won't be the only beneficiaries. Local governments like cities and counties are eligible for funds, as well as businesses and individuals. The idea is to allow funds to move quickly into the economy without the constraint of daunting levels of bureaucracy. However, there's no doubt that taxpayers — and the federal government — will eventually want to know where every penny goes.
Rob Coleman is in charge of counting the ARRA pennies that go to state agencies. As leader of the newly formed Comptroller's Statewide Stimulus Oversight group, he will coordinate information so agencies know when reports are due and what information should be recorded. In addition, the group will ensure that Texans can track these funds with the high level of transparency and accountability taxpayers have come to expect.
"Transparency is one of the Comptroller's key principles," Coleman says, "so this is a critical task that's given to our agency and taken very seriously."
Welcome aboard! Now get to work
Unfortunately, Coleman hasn't had a great deal of time to adjust to his new position. He started on April 6, and the first ARRA-related accounting policy statement went out to agencies on April 20. The first reporting to the federal government is due July 10, although many of the ARRA coordinators expect this first reporting deadline will be used to test the systems and procedures before the first statutorily required report on Oct. 10.
"We suspect they're going to use the July 10 report to figure out what they need and how people are going to report it, and then they can refine the process for the October deadline," Coleman says.
Coordination efforts are well under way within the Statewide Stimulus Oversight group. In addition to developing and administering policies related to the stimulus funds, the group is reaching out to all parties involved. Members of the Legislative Budget Board, the Governor's Office and other agencies have already been contacted about what ARRA means for them.
Coleman says, "The Comptroller's stimulus website has a wealth of information regarding the impact of stimulus funds on Texas. State agencies — and the public — can find lots of useful information, as well as links to other federal and state websites with stimulus information."
Lots of eggs, lots of baskets
Programs that benefit from ARRA cover a wide array of state services, including Medicaid, nutrition services, education, transportation, criminal justice, housing and energy. That means dozens of state agencies are receiving funds in varying amounts, and each will need to report its spending to the federal government.
Let the sunshine in
In keeping with the Comptroller's commitment to transparency, information on ARRA activity will be posted on the Window on State Government website. This will allow the public to see details about what funds are received by the state and how the money is spent.
"The public will be able to look at the information in a variety of ways," Coleman says. "We are continuing to work on our policies and processes to capture needed data. It's still a work in progress."
Dollars and sense
Despite the ongoing refinements to the reporting process, Coleman sees the bottom line as one word: transparency.
"We expect the agencies to continue to be accountable and to provide transparent information," he says. "Agencies can expect to be audited by federal and state agencies specifically on stimulus funds, so they are encouraged to document their activities, maintain excellent records and perform due diligence in fulfilling the ideas behind the use of these funds."
Throughout the process, the Statewide Stimulus Oversight group will keep agencies updated on ARRA developments through postings to FMX and FMXtra. An email address, firstname.lastname@example.org, has been created to further facilitate questions from the state agency community, and an ARRA topic page has been created to provide guidance and information to agencies.
Members of the Texas State Agency Business Administrators' Association had an additional chance to talk to Coleman in June when he addressed the organization's summer conference.
During these early days, when information is changing as quickly as the Texas weather, Coleman has a simple request for agencies and individuals. "Because things are not quite set in stone, we ask agencies to be flexible in dealing with the requirements that are being defined — and in some cases refined — and that they have some patience with us," Coleman says. "We're learning as quickly as they are."
Comptroller guidelines for accounting of ARRA funds
- Strictly adhere to federal guidelines
- State agencies and institutions of higher education must strictly adhere to all guidelines of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), Government Accountability Office (GAO), as well as all guidelines issued by the federal agencies disbursing ARRA stimulus funds.
- Keep funds separate
- All ARRA stimulus funds must be kept separate from other funds unless specifically instructed by the OMB, GAO or federal agencies to do otherwise.
- Prepare for frequent audits
- Prior to the arrival of ARRA stimulus funds, agencies and institutions should begin preparing for frequent audits by various federal and state entities.
- Maintain the highest level of internal controls
- Agencies and institutions must maintain the highest level of internal controls practicable over the receipt, accounting and distribution of ARRA stimulus funds.
- Report waste, fraud and abuse
- Agencies and institutions must report waste, fraud and abuse of ARRA funds to the appropriate authorities (state, federal, local) immediately upon detection of known acts.
- Maintain documentation to support actions
- Agencies and institutions must maintain adequate, descriptive and reliable documentation to support all actions occurring with ARRA stimulus funds.
- Seek immediate guidance
- Agencies and institutions who are unclear about the rules and policies surrounding the receipt, tracking, accounting, documenting and reporting of ARRA stimulus funds must seek immediate guidance from the federal authorities who are responsible for issuing the guidance. Agencies and institutions who have questions about state requirements must seek immediate guidance from the Comptroller's office or Legislative Budget Board, as applicable.
Source: ARRA Federal Stimulus Funding Accounting Policy for the State of Texas (FPP J.004)