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Stimulus workload taxes agency staffs and missions

Robert Brodsky | Government Executive Magazine

March 15, 2010

The additional workload associated with administering billions of dollars in stimulus funds has put a strain on the federal government’s contracts and grants workforce, according to new findings the Commerce Department’s inspector general released last Friday.

Although agencies are prioritizing Recovery Act work and, in many instances, hiring more staff or realigning tasks, the increased workload has exacted a price on departmental operations, the IG found.

“The awarding of contracts and grants is being delayed as is other work; employees are working overtime; and the oversight and monitoring of awards — especially non-Recovery Act contracts and grants — are expected to decline, as many agencies attempt to implement Recovery Act requirements while carrying out their ongoing programs and operations,” according to the report, which was mandated by the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

At the request of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the IG surveyed 29 federal agencies receiving stimulus funds to gauge whether there are enough qualified and well-trained acquisition and grant personnel overseeing stimulus funds. Twenty six responded, including officials from 140 divisions and offices.

Agencies receiving stimulus funds calculated that from April 1 through June 30, 2009, they assigned more than 22,000 employees — just over 20 percent of their contracting and grants workforce — to Recovery Act contracts and grants. Those projects resulted in more than 3.7 million hours of work during this period, the IG report said.

Agencies projected that between July 2009 and June 2010, their contracting and grants staff would spend more than 17.5 million hours on stimulus projects — or the work of nearly 8,600 full-time equivalent employees. Recovery Act staffing is expected to increase to nearly 25,000 by June, the report said.

Despite the added help, officials report they still are overwhelmed with responsibilities. More than 40 percent of respondents at large agencies said their Recovery Act staffing was inadequate. Another 45 percent said their agencies had enough employees to administer Recovery funds but the workload affected non-Recovery Act projects. The remaining 14 percent reported their staffing was fine and the work had minimal impact on other operations.

Nearly one-fourth of officials at smaller agencies reported their staffing levels were sufficient, although more than half said stimulus work was cascading into non-Recovery tasks.

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