February 13, 2009

Stimulus spending may not be so easy

The proposed $789 billion U.S. stimulus plan purports to change some government agencies into grant-writing machines, ready or not, officials said.

Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, new on the job, would find his agency with an annual budget of $25 billion in charge of distributing $40 billion for energy-related projects, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

A Commerce Department office with fewer than 20 people on staff to process grants could be asked to oversee $7 billion for Internet projects, the newspaper said.

The Congressional Budget Office said technical and personnel issues would result in an eight-year backlog for some grant money to get out the door.

The Department of Energy is going to have to dramatically change how it does business, Karen Harbert, a former senior Energy Department official, told the newspaper. They are going to need more people, more oversight and more freedom to waive regulations, she said.

The DOE already has a reputation for moving slowly, and the Government Accountability Office recently warned the department was at high risk for mismanagement problems.

But if the House and Senate approve the bill we've got to do it. Otherwise, it's going to be a bust, Chu said.