- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

President Obama met his goal of obligating $225 billion in stimulus money within 200 days, but only by going on a late spending spree that included a last-minute $11 billion grant to states to spend on education.

Mr. Obama had set the goal in June as a way of proving that the government could pump money into the economy. As of Sept. 4, the administration had obligated $233 billion of the $787 billion bill for spending.

“On countless measures, the administration has met or exceeded ambitious targets for putting Recovery Act funds to work in the second 100 days of the Act,” Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said in a statement last week. “From miles of highway paved to education jobs funded, our ramped up efforts are helping create and save jobs and put our economy on a path toward long-term economic growth.”

But to reach the spending goal, the Education Department accelerated its plans and pumped out $11 billion in grant money to states on Sept. 4, the final day of the last reporting period. Without that, the administration would have been short of its goal.

A spokeswoman for the department could not explain why the money was accelerated but said officials are aware of the overall goals of speeding up spending and pushing reforms.

After slowing to a trickle in late July and August, stimulus spending jumped from Aug. 21 to Sept. 4, with the highest two-week total since May.

The White House measures stimulus spending two ways: by the dollar amount actually paid out by the Treasury, which generally denotes completed projects; and by amount obligated, which means the government has set it aside for something specific but hasn’t necessarily been paid.

Administration officials say they prefer the obligation figure because that’s the point at which the projects get going, contracts get let and companies or municipalities begin to hire workers. That’s the measure Mr. Obama used in making his $225 billion pledge.

Critics say the paid-out figure is a more accurate measure and have questioned why some agencies have been slow in getting their money out the door.

The Defense, Interior, Energy and other departments have each paid out less than 10 percent of the money they were allotted in the stimulus bill, which was passed and signed into law in February.

Other departments, including the Education Department, have obligated a large chunk of their money, but are slow in getting it fully paid out. With the $11 billion boost, it has obligated 68 percent of its nearly $100 billion in stimulus money, but has paid out only 17 percent.

Administration officials said some of the $11 billion was for formula-driven education grants, so localities have known how much they would be getting already and have been able to plan their spending around it.

Mr. Obama is caught between competing pressures. He has promised transparency and good spending decisions, and stimulus money is being scrutinized by lawmakers, the public and some investigative interest groups.

But some lawmakers are demanding that he spend the money faster.

Last week, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, sent a letter to Mr. Obama’s budget office telling them to get the money moving.

“State government officials and private contractors are beginning to point fingers, each blaming the other for delays. We can, and must, urge the states to increase their efforts to get shovels in the ground and our people back to work,” Mr. Lieberman said.

Of the $787 billion in the stimulus, $288 billion was for tax cuts and $499 billion was for spending, Mr. Lieberman said. He said the administration is on track to provide $65 billion in tax relief and $107 billion in money paid out as of the end of September.

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