U.S. Controller Danny Werfel was at the center of the implementation of President Obama’s first major policy initiative, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, in 2009. Three years later, he says the administration plans to apply the lessons learned to future programs.
Werfel outlined several highlights in implementing the Recovery Act at Governing’s Outlook in the States and Localities conference Tuesday at the National Press Club in Washington.
The administration, Werfel said, aimed to include more auditing and controls to avoid what he viewed as initial mistakes in the earlier Trouble Asset Relief Program, enacted in October 2008. In the early stages of the Recovery Act, administration officials anticipated any reports of fraud could fuel a backlash in public support.
“We were in a game-changing moment where financial reporting and what’s going on with federal dollars was suddenly at most prominent,” said Werfel, who also serves on the Government Accountability and Transparency Board.
Public involvement in monitoring Recovery Act funds was also crucial to curbing fraud, Werfel said. Public feedback improved the system’s design, minimizing future errors. In some instances, citizens’ assisted in detecting fraud. One Florida resident’s tip about a home listed as the business address for six program recipients triggered an investigation, Werfel said.
Including groups representing states and municipalities early in the process was also key in implementing the Recovery Act, with a network of associations assisting Werfel in crafting policies.
”We can work with the state and local governments in ways where we’re not doing policy in ivory towers in a traditional way,” he said.
When examining the bill’s economic impact, Werfel said it’s important to look not only at the statistics, but how local communities are affected.
Werfel added that the lessons learned from the Recovery Act are "embedded in the way the administration is carrying out its work.”