On Dec. 31, 2011, Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Chairman Earl Devaney stepped down after leading the Board for almost three years. Devaney did more than anyone else to ensure Recovery Act spending was as transparent as it was, and his presence will be sorely missed.
While he didn't create the transparency provisions in the Recovery Act (those were written into the law or created by the Office of Management and Budget (OMB)), Devaney implemented the law's requirements. He and his team created the Recovery.gov website from scratch in remarkably little time and did a great deal to ensure that recipients understood their reporting responsibilities under the law. As a former inspector general (for the Department of the Interior), Devaney placed a strong emphasis on finding and preventing fraudulent contracting and wasteful spending, creating the Recovery Operations Center. He also insisted on making maps of Recovery Act spending the focal point of Recovery.gov, arguing that the government needed to do more to display information in useful ways.
Devaney understood the importance of providing information to the public and talked of empowering an army of citizen inspectors general. We appreciated the fact that he frequently reached out to the transparency community to get feedback and guidance. When we raised concerns about the quality of the data from the first rounds of recipient reporting, the Board moved quickly to fix the problems it could, such as automatically filling in some data fields for recipients (for example, pulling in company information from existing contracting databases) and creating algorithms to spot potential red flags (such as recipients reporting that they had spent more money than they had received).
Devaney also championed transparency beyond the Recovery Act. He has been a vocal supporter of unique identifiers for recipients of federal funds, a thorny problem that has long plagued federal spending transparency. For the past six months or so, he has also been the head of the Government Accountability and Transparency (GAT) Board, created by President Obama last year to "provide strategic direction for enhancing the transparency of Federal spending and advance efforts to detect and remediate fraud, waste, and abuse." The GAT Board's recent report advocated for many reforms, most importantly centralizing spending databases and streamlining reporting obligations, in addition to calling for a universal system of unique identifiers for contracts and grants throughout the federal government.
Devaney will be replaced by current Education Department Inspector General Kathleen Tighe. Tighe has been on the Recovery Board since March 2010, serving as the chair of the Board's Accountability Committee since March 2011. Interestingly, Tighe will not be stepping down from her inspector general role, which possibly indicates a diminution of the position of Recovery Board chair. The chair was a full-time job for Devaney, who stepped away from his Department of the Interior position to lead the Board, and Devaney clearly had Vice President Biden's ear, meeting frequently with him to discuss various issues related to the Board's work.
The chair's reduced prominence is likely a reflection of the administration's desire to move on from the Recovery Act. With most of the Recovery Act money already spent, Tighe's job will largely be overseeing the dissolution of the Board and the application of lessons learned from the Recovery Act to the entire federal government, a process Devaney has already started with the GAT Board. There's still much to be done to improve federal spending transparency, but hopefully, even in a part-time role, Tighe will bring to her new position just as much passion and success as Devaney.
Image by Flickr user OversightandReform.