By Ryan Ekvall | Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — Remember the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009?
Hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars pumped into thousands of projects — from massive road construction programs to money for an electric oyster shell dispersal cart to water safety mascot costumes.
The idea was to resurrect an economy buried in a deep recession.
But some four years later, a handful of the 6,921 total project awards to Wisconsin entities, about $4.069 billion-worth, appear to be sitting on the shelf.
A Wisconsin Reporter review of Recovery.gov reveals that $11,682,024 awarded for 36 projects in Wisconsin had not been started as of Oct. 30.
Or were they?
The information on some of the website’s pages that track where the Recovery funds are spent are inaccurate.
Wisconsin Reporter contacted some of the the companies and government agencies that were awarded stimulus funds and supposedly sitting on the caash, only to be told that the money had been spent and final reports had been filed with the federal government.
“Maybe you should do a story on how the Recovery website isn’t right,” said Cathy Pollard, executive director of the Beloit Housing Authority. “All that money had been spent by March 2012. The program is done. That money is long gone and I need more.”
The Beloit Housing Authority was awarded $259,221 on March 18, 2009, to rehabilitate 65 public housing units. Pollard said the money was spent to replace windows, furnaces and floors, among other rehab efforts. The Recovery Act funds were part of a larger $11 million investment involving tax credits and local investors to remodel Beloit’s public housing.
BHA wasn’t alone.
Wicab Inc., a research company in Middleton, received $139,183 for research on a project titled “vision substitution through the tongue,” which Wicab controller Gina Reinhard explained would enable “perception of visual information using a tongue and camera system” for the blind.
The BrainPort V100, the company’s device that uses the vision-substitution technology, has not yet been submitted for FDA approval, but Reinhard insists the money was spent and reports filed.
Dee Barnard, executive director of Access to Independence Inc., an independent living outreach agency, said, “That’s really weird because we report every quarter into the portal.”
Access to Independence was granted $201,352 in December 2009, funds Barnard said were used for “development, staff training for fee-for-service programs and to add a couple of staff members.”
So why is the Recovery website riddled with errors?
“I don’t know the answer, man,” said Ed Pound, spokesman for the federal Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which tracks waste, fraud and abuse in the stimulus program.
The problem appears to be laced with the multiple layers of bureaucracy that is the Recovery Act and the accounting for it.
“Money is dispersed by 28 federal agencies. That’s contracts, grants and loans of $276 billion, one-third of the program. Money is dispersed by agencies to the recipients, and then these recipients are to file reports every quarter with the Recovery Board. After a month we post them publicly on Recovery.gov. In this case this recipient should be filing with us every quarter,” Pound said.
Apparently they are.
Pound and Wisconsin Reporter did some sleuthing on the Recovery.gov web site and found many of the recipients had multiple awards listed for the same amount of money.
For example, Access to Independence was awarded a $201,352 grant on Dec. 18, 2009. On the same day, the entity also was awarded a contract for the same amount. Pound suggested the award was changed by the issuing agency, in this case, the U.S. Department of Education.
“Something got changed in the way this got awarded,” he said. “I’m betting they switched this thing around. I don’t know that, but I would go back to these guys and ask them what they actually received.”
“There’s no way for me to know because we don’t disperse the funds. Not being the awarding officer, I have no clue what’s going on here,” he said.
Wisconsin Reporter contacted several agencies that awarded Recovery funds. None returned calls as of late Wednesday morning.
Contact Ryan Ekvall at [email protected]
— Edited by Kelly Carson, [email protected]