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Obama official agrees more needs to be done on stimulus transparency

New stimulus oversight chief Earl Devaney faced sharp questions today from House lawmakers as the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board ramps up operations.

The former Interior Department inspector general told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at a hearing that firm estimates of how much of the $787 billion had been dispensed by federal agencies were not yet available. He also said adequate rules for standardized spending reports remained elusive and that virtually no funding was available for the state and local officials charged with auditing local spending.

Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, challenged Devaney to offer an estimate of how much cash had made its way into job-creating programs. Devaney replied that "a lot" of the federal funding had been disbursed through pre-existing agency grant formulas already vetted to minimize waste and fraud.

Kucinich shot back a stern request for him to quantify "a lot," adding, "Is it stimulating the economy? Do you know?" Reporting requirements for the stimulus package -- passed only a month ago do not contain an established metric to measure job creation, a data hole that the accountability board hopes to fill, Devaney said. But he said the Obama administration was responsible for the specifics of such a measure and he did not expect to be involved with its drafting.

The Recovery.gov Web site will remain under OMB for another 30 to 45 days, while Devaney, who has yet to obtain new office space, completes hiring and setting up basic infrastructure for the transparency board. Faced with questions about the lack of streamlined data flowing to the Web site, which is the administration's primary means of delivering on President Obama's promise of transparency, Devaney said he is still evaluating OMB's guidelines.

"I arrived at the train station and found out that the train had already left," he said.

The plain-spoken government watchdog, peppered with questions, responded with an optimistic assessment of the board's ultimate value to taxpayers. "If we do this right, it will serve as a model for the future," he told the panel. "Undoubtedly it won't be right in the beginning. As we go forward, we will refine this."

Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns said he will send a letter this afternoon to Vice President Biden -- to whom Devaney reports -- requesting that the administration convene a "high-tech roundtable" of public and private sector information technology professionals to outline a standardized method of creating a user-friendly spending database.

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