Acquisition workforce looms large at initial stimulus meeting

During the first economic stimulus plan implementation meeting, top officials identified the shortage of acquisition employees as a significant challenge in disbursing funds efficiently and responsibly.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board, said while the amount spent on contracting has increased dramatically since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, procurement staffing levels have remained steady.

"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," Devaney said.

Office of Management and Budget Director Peter Orszag encouraged Cabinet officials to determine the number of contracting officers and other acquisition personnel necessary to ensure money is moving quickly and is being spent as it was intended.

Devaney, Orszag and Vice President Joe Biden stressed the transparency and accountability requirements of the law. Orszag said Recovery.gov is receiving 3,000 hits a second, indicating intense public interest in implementation of the stimulus package.

Biden, who is coordinating and overseeing the plan, said he would be "a bit of a pain in the neck" and would demand that agency officials attend weekly implementation meetings. He also urged agency heads to communicate challenges as they arise.

"You've got to let me know what roadblocks you encounter," Biden said. "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."

Devaney said the focus of stimulus watchdogs must shift to prevention on the front end, rather than looking into problems once they've already occurred.

"I was encouraged last week to attend a meeting of 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," he said.

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