Looking for the money to spend stimulus money

State officials in charge of spending federal stimulus money are scrambling to spend it and to spend it right. The Obama Administration has told the states to either spend the funding fast — in order to get the economy pumping again — or they’re going to take it back.

But the law written into the stimulus program requires meticulous reporting in an effort to heighten transparency and curb abuse. State auditors say they haven’t been given money to pay staff and set up the necessary accounting infrastructure. Colorado officials told the Wisconsin State Journal they have no money for a website or a publicist. A spokesperson for Gov. Ritter said his office has no handle on the costs of allocating stimulus money and suggested the state may be incurring debt on the spending:

Don Elliman, Colorado’s economic development director who also leads a volunteer oversight panel set up to audit Colorado’s spending, called sorting through the stimulus particulars “a major time suck.”

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said. A spokesman for Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter says Colorado officials have no estimate how much they’ll spend administering stimulus spending.

Officials in other states relayed versions of the same story.

In South Carolina, staffers are working nights and weekends.

“We’re doing it on the cheap because we really don’t have a choice,” said Richard Eckstrom, South Carolina’s comptroller general. Eckstrom is head of a task force that will set up a state system to track how federal stimulus money is used.

“We’re not being paid to do it,” Eckstrom said. “We’re doing it with existing staff. We’re doing it with existing technology.”

There has to be a technological fix for some of this, a national website broken out by state to track spending projects, for example — a perfect project for an open-source network kind of fix. But make it fast, because the Google guys are no doubt developing a Federal Stimulus Spending-tracker app right this minute!

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