As Initial Implementation Unfolds in States and Localities, Continued Attention to Accountability Issues Is Essential
GAO-09-631T: Published: Apr 23, 2009. Publicly Released: Apr 23, 2009.
This testimony discusses GAO's work examining the uses and planning by selected states and localities for funds made available by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Recovery Act). The Recovery Act is estimated to cost about $787 billion over the next several years, of which about $280 billion will be administered through states and localities. Funds made available under the Recovery Act are being distributed to states, localities, and other entities and individuals through a combination of grants and direct assistance. As Congress may know, the stated purposes of the Recovery Act are to: (1) preserve and create jobs and promote economic recovery; (2) assist those most impacted by the recession; (3) provide investments needed to increase economic efficiency by spurring technological advances in science and health; (4) invest in transportation, environmental protection, and other infrastructure that will provide long-term economic benefits; and (5) stabilize state and local government budgets, in order to minimize and avoid reductions in essential services and counterproductive state and local tax increases. As described in GAO's March testimony, the Recovery Act specifies several roles for GAO including conducting bimonthly reviews of selected states' and localities' use of funds made available under the act. This statement today is based on our report being released today, Recovery Act: As Initial Implementation Unfolds in States and Localities, Continued Attention to Accountability Issues Is Essential, which is the first in a series of bimonthly reviews we will do on states' and localities' uses of Recovery Act funding and covers the actions taken under the Act through April 20, 2009. Our report and our other work related to the Recovery Act can be found on our new website called Following the Money: GAO's Oversight of the Recovery Act, which is accessible through GAO's home page at http://www.gao.gov. Like the report, this statement discusses (1) selected states' and localities' uses of and planning for Recovery Act funds, (2) the approaches taken by the selected states and localities to ensure accountability for Recovery Act funds, and (3) states' plans to evaluate the impact of the Recovery Act funds they received.
About 90 percent of the estimated $49 billion in Recovery Act funding to be provided to states and localities in FY2009 will be through health, transportation and education programs. Within these categories, the three largest programs are increased Medicaid Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) grant awards, funds for highway infrastructure investment, and the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF). The funding notifications for Recovery Act funds for the 16 selected states and the District of Columbia (the District) have been approximately $24.2 billion for Medicaid FMAP on April 3, $26.7 billion for highways on March 2, and $32.6 billion for SFSF on April 2. Fifteen of the 16 states and the District have drawn down approximately $7.96 billion in increased FMAP grant awards for the period October 1, 2008 through April 1, 2009. The increased FMAP is for state expenditures for Medicaid services. The receipt of this increased FMAP may reduce the state share for their Medicaid programs. States have reported using funds made available as a result of the increased FMAP for a variety of purposes. For example, states and the District reported using these funds to maintain their current level of Medicaid eligibility and benefits, cover their increased Medicaid caseloads-which are primarily populations that are sensitive to economic downturns, including children and families, and to offset their state general fund deficits thereby avoiding layoffs and other measures detrimental to economic recovery. States are undertaking planning activities to identify projects, obtain approval at the state and federal level and move them to contracting and implementation. For the most part, states were focusing on construction and maintenance projects, such as road and bridge repairs. Before they can expend Recovery Act funds, states must reach agreement with the Department of Transportation on the specific projects; as of April 16, two of the 16 states had agreements covering more than 50 percent of their states' apportioned funds, and three states did not have agreement on any projects. While a few, including Mississippi and Iowa had already executed contracts, most of the 16 states were planning to solicit bids in April or May. Thus, states generally had not yet expended significant amounts of Recovery Act funds. The states and D.C. must apply to the Department of Education for SFSF funds. Education will award funds once it determines that an application contains key assurances and information on how the state will use the funds. As of April 20, applications from three states had met that determination- South Dakota, and two of GAO's sample states, California and Illinois. The applications from other states are being developed and submitted and have not yet been awarded. The states and the District report that SFSF funds will be used to hire and retain teachers, reduce the potential for layoffs, cover budget shortfalls, and restore funding cuts to programs. Planning continues for the use of Recovery Act funds. State activities indlude appointing Recovery Czars; establishing task forces and other entities, and developing public websites to solicit input and publicize selected projects. GAO found that the selected states and the District are taking various approaches to ensuring that internal controls manage risk up-front; they are assessing known risks and developing plans to address those risks. State auditors are also planning their work including conducting required single audits and testing compliance with federal requirements. Nearly half of the estimated spending programs in the Recovery Act will be administered by non-federal entities. State officials suggested opportunities to improve communication in several areas. Officials in nine of the 16 states and the District expressed concern about determining the jobs created and retained under the Recovery Act, as well as methodologies that can be used for estimation of each.