Fed Funds Flowing, Tracking Qs Remain

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The first report on federal stimulus dollars in California and around the nation is out, and poses two key questions: do local officials have the resources and training to follow all the rules, and can anyone really peg the full impact of all this money?

Today's report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) tracks money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in 16 states and the District of Columbia. These are the states where the bulk of the money is being sent, and GAO has been tasked to provide the reports every other month for the duration of the program.

Future reports are likely to be a bit more interesting, once we really start to see the money flow. This one is more of a baseline marker of California's $48.3 billion share of the pie. Of that amount, GAO says $34 billion will go to the state and about $14 billion directly to local governments.

The handling of the cash will be a key area of monitoring, especially on the local level. GAO's report mentions several times the concerns expressed by California officials about whether local overseers are prepared.

One example includes an interview GAO conducted with a state finance official, who repotedly said that school districts across California "possess varying levels of sophistication in their accounting systems." The state's due to receive a total of about $12 billion for education (to be fair, only some of that money would be affected by the concern raised above).

As we've reported, the state has a lot of "watchers" preparing to track the money. One of the most high-profile, the governor's recovery inspector general Laura Chick, begins her new job next week.

But the lingering issue may be assessing the true impact of federal aid. In several instances, the GAO report relays concerns from California officials about how they will -- or won't -- be able to measure impact. Consider the following example when it comes to jobs created by transportation assistance:

Caltrans officials told us that since Recovery Act funds may be combined with other funds to complete projects, isolating the number of jobs created using just the Recovery Act funds may be difficult.</blockquote>

The full GAO report (for all states) is here.

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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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