Texas Remains Vague on ARRA Spending Data

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Recently I received comments from Texas Observer staff regarding my blog entry titled “Federal AARA funded Cancer Research and Renewable Energy Programs? Fuggetaboutit!!!”

I was applauded on the research presented in the piece, but the main concern was my lack of information regarding who actually decides where stimulus-funding provided by the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, or ARRA, goes and how these decision makers base these choices.  After researching further on whom decides stimulus-spending, I would like to offer my sincerest apologies that there is no such information available on the stimulus-funding matter.

The main Texas ARRA Web site, http://window.state.tx.us/recovery has published data regarding what agencies have received stimulus funds but has remained ambiguous regarding specific contract data and what people are actually behind the decision making process.

In a report published by the Texas Public Interest Research Group (TexPIRG), Texas Impact, Public Citizen and produced by Good Jobs First, a non-profit research center based in Washington, D.C., Texas ranked 42 out of 51 states on the content provided on their ARRA Web sites. This rating was due to an overwhelming amount of information that was absent from the ARRA site including contract details, description of funding awards, and duration or completion status of specific projects.

Despite the lack of apparent information on the ARRA Web site, I thought that communicating with an official from the State Comptroller’s office would shed some light on who actually decides stimulus-spending issues. On June 23, I sent an e-mail message to [email protected], the main Texas government address where anyone can contact with inquiries about the ARRA. In my e-mail I acknowledged that the information published on the Web site was from Susan Combs office, but I further inquired as to who actually makes the decisions on how the funds are disbursed amongst numerous agencies. That same day I received a reply from Manager of Statewide ARRA Oversight Rob Coleman.

“Within Texas, the respective state agency that has the same or similar programs or mission that align with the available funding received the allocation. Certain Recovery Act funding was on a competitive basis. Therefore, state entities could make a decision to apply for those dollars. Based on the federal government’s evaluation of each proposal, awarding decisions are made,” said Coleman. Coleman didn’t actually answer my question on specifically who decides ARRA spending, but only provided generic information on how it is done.

Plenty of stimulus funding has been disbursed to various areas such as Education and Health and Human Services but the Texas ARRA Web site has failed to explain why these projects were granted and what benefit they will provide to the local economy. The Texas Department of Transportation, or TxDOT, has generated the most controversy amongst such agencies regarding their lack of publishing stimulus-spending details.

Highway projects have dominated the TxDOT stimulus agenda, but less than 0.5% of stimulus-funds received have actually gone to metropolitan railway and transit proposals. No indication was provided however on the ARRA site regarding spending amongst different counties and how projects would plan to effect unemployment, foreclosures or poverty. With numerous state transit projects such as Austin’s Capital Metro still facing an uncertain completion date due to economic reasons, it is frustrating as to why no information about their completion or duration status is available.

This isn’t the only time the Texas Department of Transportation has faced controversy in the past regarding the availability of its documents to the public. In 2008, the Federal Highway Administration criticized TxDOT on how the agency hadn’t published any update on the Highway 290 project in 20 years.

With past controversy looming around their necks, it remains disturbing as to why TxDOT has provided no specific information regarding current Texas highway funding and transit projects or the State Comptroller’s website on ARRA projects as a whole. To learn briefly about the what, where and when’s of Texas’ stimulus-projects but not the who, how or why’s, please visit http://window.state.tx.us/recovery.