After a two-week binge to meet President Obama’s 200-day goal, stimulus spending has plummeted once again - and the roller-coaster pace of spending has critics worried about how the money is being spent.
Throughout the summer, the administration had averaged about $4 billion in new spending obligations per week, but went on a two-week $25 billion spree just in time to meet the president’s $225 billion goal for the first 200 days. Spending plummeted to less than $4 billion in the week of Sept. 5 through Sept. 11.
“As a longtime government-spending watchdog, our experience says that when you expend such large sums so thoughtlessly, you can all but guarantee that significant portions of this money will be lost and never accounted for,” said Leslie Paige, media director at Citizens Against Government Waste. “It is an unconscionable, damaging way to manhandle the taxpayers’ dollars. We wish stimulus Inspector General Earl Devaney good luck and Godspeed in trying to track this money.”
Asked whether the $25 billion bump was timed to the 200-day target, Elizabeth Oxhorn, a White House spokeswoman, said spending levels will vary.
“We’re pleased to provide week-by-week transparency on the recovery act, which inevitably will reflect some weeks seeing more activity, and some weeks less,” she said. “The important point is that, when viewed over the long haul, our progress is steady, the program is ahead of schedule, and the results are clear.”
The $787 billion stimulus bill, officially known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, was signed into law in February. The president said the money should be spent quickly to try to boost the economy and produce jobs.
The White House said it met its spending goals on Sept. 3, and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. declared victory. But according to Recovery.gov and the Education Department’s Web site, the administration didn’t hit the $225 billion mark until a day later - and only with a final-day infusion of $11 billion in grant money from the Education Department to states.
Some lawmakers are growing impatient, saying they voted for the money with the expectation that it would be spent faster.
“I am concerned that too many Americans continue to lose their homes and livelihoods through no fault of their own, and I fear that, until the pace of recovery picks up, this unacceptable situation will continue,” Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent and chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, wrote in a letter to Mr. Obama’s budget director earlier this month.
The administration reported obligating $237.7 billion in stimulus spending through Sept. 11, though only $98 billion was paid out. The administration says the obligation figure is a better measure because that’s the point at which contracts can be let or aid trickles down to municipalities.
The biggest spenders in the past week were the Justice, Labor, Energy and Education departments. The Interior Department, which was allotted $3 billion, has obligated just $533 million and paid out only $62 million. The Commerce Department, allotted $7.9 billion, has obligated just $1.2 billion and spent only $543 million.
The $25 billion, two-week boost in spending was powered in large part by an $11 billion jump in Education Department money. The department acknowledged accelerating the money to spend earlier than anticipated, though it could not say exactly why that decision had been made. Ms. Oxhorn at the White House said all agencies have been asked to move quickly on spending and that the education money coincided with the start of the school year.