Is Stimulus Money Being Spent Too Fast?

Could the wheels of government bureaucracy be grinding too quickly for once?

Could the wheels of government bureaucracy be grinding too quickly for once?

States, in particular, have been criticized for taking too long to use money from the government's $787 billion stimulus package. Yet, some wonder whether the emphasis on "shovel-ready" projects under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is putting pressure on federal, state and local officials to push forward on projects that either aren't ready for primetime or just aren't important enough to receive immediate funding.

Government officials overseeing the distribution of stimulus funds, of course, disagree.

Below, we take a look at some of the speedy spending and the arguments for and against it:

Broadband Access

What It Is: The government has allotted $7.2 billion of stimulus funding to the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utilities Service (RUS) to expand broadband services that would allow for more high-speed Internet access across the country. The deadline to apply for the first round of funding for broadband projects was in August.

Why It's Happening Too Fast: The Federal Communications Commission isn't due to debut its National Broadband Plan -- which will outline the agency's strategy for providing broadband access to everyone in the country -- until Feb. 17, 2010. The NTIA, meanwhile, earlier this month awarded grants to four states -- California, Indiana, North Carolina and Vermont -- to map existing broadband access.

That means those applying for the first round of broadband grants under the Recovery Act are doing so without access to the information being gathered now for the FCC report and the state maps.

"My question would be, what in the heck are they basing their projects on?" asked John Dunbar, who studies media and broadband issues at American University.

Why It's Not: Officials at the NTIA and RUS said that those who submitted applications for broadband access in August did have tools, including their own local geographical surveys, to gather information for their projects. Some states, they added, already do have their own broadband access maps.

The information provided by project applications could actually help the FCC in its efforts to create a national broadband map.

"One of the principal aims of the recovery act is to provide stimulus funding to jump-start the economy and that's just what these broadband stimulus funds are supposed to do -- deploy broadband to parts of country that are un-served and underserved, in order for the people in those areas to better participate in the global economy," an RUS official said.

Airport Improvements

What It Is: The stimulus package includes more than $1 billion for the Federal Aviation Administration's Airport Improvement Program (AIP), which provides grants to airports for "enhancing airport safety, capacity, security, and environmental concerns." Through a mathematical model, AIP projects are assigned a "National Priority Rating" of 1 to 100, with 100 being of the highest priority.

Why It's Happening Too Fast: An analysis by the Subsidyscope project of the Pew Charitable Trusts found that more than 60 projects approved for $273 million in stimulus funding by the FAA were low priority projects, with NPR scores below 62 -- the threshold set by the FAA for stimulus-funded projects.

Among the projects with lower NPRs were expanding or improving airport terminal buildings.

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