The Obama administration wants 70% of the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to be invested by the end of 2010. At mid-year, it was less than 10% of the way there.
Depending on the federal agency, funds are being distributed in two main ways.
About two-thirds is flowing in stages to the states with amounts determined on a formula basis and subsequently disbursed from states to local agencies. Another 18% is going through competitive grant programs of 26 federal agencies and will cascade into local agencies acting as the grant provider. The rest — 16% — will be distributed as discretionary funding to projects, loan guarantees, and other not-yet-defined mechanisms.
No matter how and when the money is allocated, though, it comes with new strings attached.
In an indication of how fluid the processes around this legislation are, in June the White House extended the first reporting deadline from July 10 to Oct. 10 for virtually all infrastructure-related Department of Agriculture, Commerce, Transportation, and EPA programs; and issued guidance under memorandum M-09-21: "Implementing Guidance for the Reports on Use of Funds Pursuant to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009" for fulfilling them.
Beginning on Oct. 10, recipients must share the amount received, a list of projects that includes status towards completion, the estimated number of jobs created, and information on sub-grants or subcontracts at least quarterly through www.Federalreporting.gov, which is still under development. Some agencies, such as the Federal Highway Administration, have monthly deadlines, prompting state agencies to follow suit.
Primary funding recipients, such as state agencies, have 10 days from Oct. 10 to review submissions from subrecipients such as sub-contractors and local agencies. The review of the reports by the respective federal agency ensues for 10 days after that initial review.
No separate funding currently exists to cover associated administrative costs. But with the pending passage of U.S. Senate Bill 1064, which passed the House of Representatives on May 19, recipients may be able to use up to 0.5% in addition to any funds already allocated to administrative expenditures for data collection; auditing; contract and grant planning and management; and investigating waste, fraud, and abuse.
Although vendor participation is voluntary, the proposal also authorizes the General Services Administration to let state and local governments use federal supply schedules to buy goods or services for stimulus projects.
Not surprisingly, all this extra paperwork is challenging the compliance, contract- and risk-management, procurement, and control processes many infrastructure operations already have in place. Here are four ways to stay ahead of the curve:
Prioritize against organizational goals. While many application deadlines have passed, the opportunity for funding is far from over.
In late June, www.Grants.gov began listing programs that are available through the rest of the year, with some deadlines extending into 2010. Additional opportunities are also likely to become available.
By leveraging existing planning processes and examining programs or projects on the horizon, you can begin to synchronize existing goals and initiatives with stimulus funding and pursue competitive grants most applicable to your operation's priorities.
What projects are far enough along in the planning stages to get started right away? What were you planning to do that you've been waiting on funding for?
Understand the motives, history, and aspirations of grant programs to identify appropriate funding opportunities that align your operation's priorities and allow for the possibility of accelerated project plans.
Create or use simple, centralized tools. Whether proprietary or off-the-shelf, look for software that enables you to identify target projects and provides decision-making frameworks for defining priorities.
For example, Chicago developed its Climate Action Plan using MWH's mPlanner, a software program that aligns stakeholder input with program goals. The software was used to prioritize, in a consistent and transparent manner, 29 actions that officials and residents can take to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
Florida's Miami Dade County is using the software to prioritize renewal and replacement decisions as part of a comprehensive asset management program. Fund allocation priorities were based on factors such as risk and various business drivers to improve service by lowering the possibility of system failures.
Establish measurable and mutual goals to track project status. To ensure your operation delivers the expected return on investment, you'll need some way of tracking the progress of projects so you can tweak schedules as they move toward completion.
Northglenn, Colo., is using The Five Star Institute's Vector 5 peformance-management software to track team goals, individual actions, and timeframes and success measures while breaking down organizational silos and encouraging cross-functional cooperation. Clear goals and concise tactics lead to successful project completion while aligning with reporting requirements.
Synchronize opportunities with resources. Adding stimulus projects to the workload of an already strained team can create a high-risk environment. Sometimes, establishing a project management office (PMO) is worth the investment.
To ensure that 600 post-Hurricane Katrina redevelopment projects were delivered on time and on budget while meeting Federal Emergency Management Agency auditing requirements, New Orleans and MWH pulled together a team of 40 employees that included staff from the Mayor's Office of Communications and the legal, purchasing, finance, real estate, property management, capital projects administration, and public works departments. The team standardized and quickly adapted processes to meet ever-evolving challenges.
While not all operations can afford this model, prioritizing projects that can meet tangible goals will help you to best allocate existing resources without significantly straining employees.
By seizing this opportunity to improve processes, you can use the legislation's unique administrative requirements to your advantage long after the final dollar is spent. The systems deployed now will enhance goal-setting, project-identification and -prioritization, performance tracking, and communication of accomplishments — all of which will improve your operations' overall effectiveness. PW
Gallagher is director of project management and DeGeorge is a business consultant for MWH Business Solutions Group, which provides environmental engineering, construction, and strategic consulting services.