Stimulus Money: Watching the Watchers

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California's portion of the federal stimulus money seems to be flowing a little faster every day. And with it comes folks watching how it will be spent. A lot of folks.

On this morning's edition of The California Report, I reported on the complexity involved in managing some $48 billion in money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That management, and distribution, is passing through multiple channels, often led by Governor Schwarzenegger's economic stimulus task force but also including the Legislature, local officials, and others.

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But a key element of the federal stimulus package is also oversight over how all those bucks are spent. The administration of President Barack Obama has made it clear that proper use of the money is crucial.

So who's watching the stimulus money in California? Everyone, it seems. Last week, Schwarzenegger tapped Los Angeles city controller Laura Chick to be his stimulus inspector general, the first such IG in the nation.

With that, Chick became the fifth separate entity with some kind of mission to account for how funds will be spent. Yes, five. There are special committtees in both the Assembly and Senate, the federal Government Accountability Office, and state Auditor Elaine Howle.

Whether that's excessive depends on who you talk to. The governor's new watchdog, Laura Chick, defended her position and $175,000 salary last week.

"Every dollar spent on an inspector general watching this money," she told reporters, "is going to end up saving a lot of money."

But there's certainly a chance that there will be duplication in some of the monitoring. Some say the office perhaps best suited to the task is that of auditor Howle. In an interview this week, Howle said her auditors examined 43 separate federal programs last year.

"We already have some historical knowledge and expertise," she said.

As for the GAO, western director Linda Calbom said in a phone interview from her Seattle office that federal auditors will spend a lot of time both in Sacramento and various California communities over the next two years. California is one of 16 states (plus the District of Columbia) where the GAO will be reporting on stimulus spending every other month; their first report is due in two weeks.

Addendum: An astute reader asks about how state auditors might, or might not, match up with the job at hand given the auditors typically go back and examine spending after the fact. Good catch; what's noteworthy in this effort is the federal requirement for what's being called "real time monitoring," and Howle says her office is getting geared up for just such a switch when it comes to all of this money.

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About John Myers

John Myers is senior editor of KQED's new multimedia California Politics & Government Desk.  He has covered California politics for most of the past two decades -- serving previously as Sacramento bureau chief for KQED News and, most recently, as political editor for KXTV News10 (ABC) in Sacramento. He moderated the only gubernatorial debate of 2014, and was named one of the nation's top statehouse reporters by The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter @johnmyers.

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