Stimulus hot line is on the horizon

Effort will be tricky because tips are likely to vary widely.

Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board Chairman Earl Devaney announced on Tuesday that his panel is working to establish a hot line for managing public comments and concerns about economic stimulus spending.

But the complexity of incoming advice could present a challenge, he told lawmakers during a House Science and Technology Subcommittee on Investigations and Oversight hearing.

"This hot line, which will allow for input in all manner of communication, cannot simply be an off-the-shelf, plain vanilla hot line, with personnel who do not understand what questions to ask or what information to obtain," Devaney stated in written testimony.

Typically, hot lines are set up to handle one agency or one type of funding, but Devaney's panel is responsible for overseeing governmentwide stimulus spending, ranging from education grants and federal construction contracts to rural development loans and broadband technology programs.

"The board will strive to ensure that any hot line personnel and technology will be both expansive and thorough enough to meet this challenge," he stated.

Devaney also told the subcommittee that "in the next week or two" the board plans to embark on "some sort of competitive process" that will enable information technology vendors to bid on contracts for enhancing, the federal Web site conceived to trace the spending of stimulus funds.

An online town hall meeting that the board organized in late April to gather ideas about technologies that could improve the site's design and content received 593,000 hits on the first day, Devaney noted. The National Academy of Public Administration, which co-hosted the dialogue, still is assembling the recommendations, he said.

Fraudnet, a Government Accountability Office hot line that precedes the stimulus effort, has gathered more than 25 allegations of misuse of stimulus, bailout and recovery-related funds during the past few months, acting Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro told lawmakers. The service allows citizens to share evidence of fraudulent activity via phone, fax, e-mail, postal mail or an online form.

Dodaro said it is too soon to discuss details about the allegations received or the status of the ongoing investigations.