Stimulus

  • Stimulus critics sought stimulus money

    Construction workers on the Mission Reach of the River Walk
    Construction workers on the River Walk's Mission Reach

    I had written some stories about local stimulus projects a few months ago, so it was interesting to read this report by the Center for Public Integrity that showed how elected officials who publicly criticized the Recovery Act had privately sought stimulus funds for their Congressional districts and states.

    A cool thing about this project is that bloggers can embed the findings in their own posts. It allows their readers to search the documentation — and uses social media to help the story go viral.

  • What stimulus projects are being funded in Bexar County, and what’s the price tag?

    Construction workers on the Mission Reach of the River Walk
    Construction workers on the River Walk's Mission Reach

    Our latest story about the stimulus is about how much federal money is flowing to Bexar County, what kind of projects are being funded, and what will the lasting impact be?

    Stimulus money is fixing headstones at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, building new playgrounds, painting buildings at Lackland AFB, paying for 50 new police officers and reshaping the San Antonio River.

    It’s funding high-profile projects that will benefit future generations — and paying for obscure work that hardly will be noticed.

    Sometimes, it feels like the biggest beneficiaries of the Recovery Act are companies that make the outlandishly sized checks for ribbon-cuttings, where politicians frequently take credit for stimulus projects.

    But behind the photo ops are a large number of companies, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations that were awarded 775 grants and contracts in Bexar County worth more than $850 million, according to spending reports released last week by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. Another $60 million in stimulus money is being loaned to local businesses.

    We’ve been spending a few months examining the local impact of the Recovery Act — past stories are here and here. I’ve also been bookmarking useful resources through Diigo — feel free to check out my real-time list of handy websites.

    For the latest story, we mostly relied on data you can download directly from Recovery.gov, the website of the Recovery Board. The data doesn’t have a “county” category, but you can match the zip code of each award with the zip codes of your county. If you’re simply interested in seeing what kind of stimulus projects are being funded in your county or neighborhood, the Recovery Board offers an interactive map that lets you drill down to the street level. Each stimulus project shows up as a dot — click on it to learn more details.

  • Why do liberal socialist media elites spend so much time uncovering government waste?

    cheLast week, Republican Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn released “Summertime Blues,” a report listing what they say are the top 100 wasteful stimulus projects across the United States.

    There’s an interesting pattern buried in the 583 footnotes at the end of the report: More than 200 citations rely on stories published by news organizations. Many of the examples of questionable spending were first made public in news articles — including one by yours truly.

    But wait a second. How is this possible?

    I thought reporters are socialists who believe in Big Government. That’s what the Rush Limbaughs of the world claim. U.S. Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas even said liberal bias in the media is the greatest threat to America.

    But if they’re right, why are journalists spending so much time uncovering examples of wasteful government spending, publicizing the details, and holding officials accountable?

    Think about it. You can pick up a newspaper anywhere in the country and chances are, there’s a story about some taxpayer-financed boondoggle. And if you’re not reading it in a newspaper, you’re probably watching the story on TV, or reading it online in one of the countless investigative Internet sites that are sprouting up.

    The journalists I work with are obsessed with this watchdog thing, and it gets annoying after awhile. They totally forget how we’re supposed to be liberal radicals. A reporter might be talking to me about the nuances of the Texas Public Information Act, and I’ll be like, “Dude, I’m just here for the free Che Guevara T-shirt.”

    Memo to my bosses: I have yet to get my T-shirt, please get on that.

    Some people might say the critics who get worked up about liberal media bias conveniently ignore all the investigative stories that poke a gaping hole in their claims.

    I, for one, would never say that. It’s so much more fun to be part of a vast liberal media conspiracy.

    (Photo credit: Podknox on Flickr)

  • San Antonio’s weatherization program falls behind schedule; officials blame state agency

    Weatherization Action Plan for the city of San Antonio by John Tedesco

    weatherizationI was on vacation last week and didn’t have a chance to post my latest story about the federal stimulus program and how it’s playing out in Bexar County. San Antonio’s weatherization program is behind schedule, and officials blamed the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs. Tracy Idell Hamilton wrote a follow up story last week and officials assured her they were ironing out their differences.

    We’ve been looking at various stimulus projects locally. If you have any success stories or concerns about specific programs, feel free to contact me. You can also check out useful links about the Recovery Act through a real-time list I published on my Diigo account.

  • Why a $7.3 million stimulus project is a year behind schedule in San Antonio

    Red tape stalls stimulus project in San Antonio by John Tedesco

    We’ve been checking how stimulus funds are being spent in Bexar County, and one of the interesting things we’ve learned is how money for some projects still hasn’t been spent, more than a year after the Recovery Act became law.

    Last month I met Peter Zanoni, assistant city manager for the city of San Antonio who’s in charge of the city’s stimulus projects. He and his staff said the stimulus is great for San Antonio but they were also open about some of the difficulties they faced. At one point, Zanoni showed me a chart detailing how the city had been awarded $118 million in stimulus money. But as of April, the city had only spent about a tenth of that — $12 million.

    “So you’re probably saying, ‘Jeez, what are you guys doing? That’s pretty weak,’” Zanoni quipped.

    The problem is that officials want to spend the money quickly, but they also want to make sure it’s spent appropriately. There’s a ton of federal oversight — audits, reviews, paperwork — that the city must deal with.

    I ended up focusing on an example of a project that was mired in red tape. The city had plans for two fire stations that were “shovel ready” and had received $7.3 million in stimulus grants. The money came from FEMA — the Federal Emergency Management Agency. I got a tip that the project was taking forever and the contractor on the job, Bartlett Cocke, even had to lay off a few employees.

    Not quite what the stimulus program was supposed to be accomplishing.

    The tip turned out to be true — I interviewed Kirk Kistner at Bartlett Cocke who confirmed it. I also asked for any e-mails from the city that discussed the delays with the fire stations and other stimulus projects. It’s important in these kinds of stories to track down pertinent documents. Tad Wille, budget program analysis manager for the city who somehow keeps track of all the paperwork tied to stimulus projects, was very helpful in compiling a pile of e-mails discussing the delays.

    In one message, a deputy fire chief updated his bosses about the federal regulations that were slowing down the project: “FEMA stated to me that ‘shovel ready’ was not a term in their lexicon,” the chief wrote. The e-mails helped lay out the timeline of events and revealed concerns expressed privately by city officials.

    Red tape stalls stimulus project in San Antonio

    One thing I wanted to know is whether other fire departments were experiencing similar delays with these fire station grants. Federal data allowed us to answer that question.

    Recipients of stimulus dollars file spending reports, and that data is posted online at Recovery.gov, the official website of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board. In the data, each type of grant is identified by a specific code. So you can filter the data by that code to find who has received similar grants.

    That’s what I did for the fire station grants. It allowed me to write the following graphs in my story about the fire stations:

    According to the most recent spending reports posted online by the Recovery Board, 118 fire departments in the United States had been awarded nearly $200 million in grant money to build new stations. But four of five recipients reported the projects have yet to start, and few jobs have been created.

    The reasons for the delays aren’t always FEMA’s fault. In the town of Edgewater, Fla., the station still is being designed, so a detailed environmental assessment required by FEMA didn’t interfere with construction, Fire Captain Jill Danigel said.

    “That process did take us many, many months,” Danigel said. “If we were shovel ready, that would have held us up.”

    In Valley Hill, N.C., Fire Chief Tim Garren said he’s in the “same boat” as the San Antonio Fire Department.

    “We’re as shovel ready as can be,” said Garren, whose department received a $640,000 grant in September 2009 to build a new station. Garren still is waiting for the environmental assessment at the site to be approved.

    “I don’t want to fuss because it’s going to be free money, and it’s greatly needed,” Garren said. “But it’s still frustrating.”

    We plan to run more stories about local stimulus projects and their impact in Bexar County. I’ve been bookmarking interesting websites about the stimulus and sharing them online through Diigo, feel free to check them out and offer recommendations or tips.

  • The federal stimulus: Tips and resources

    My boss David Sheppard, projects editor at the Express-News, asked me to take a look at local stimulus projects in San Antonio to see where the money is going; to make sure that taxpayer dollars are spent appropriately; and to measure the economic impact locally.

    Federal stimulus programs in San AntonioFeel free to contact me if you know of any success stories or problems with projects in Bexar County that are funded by Recovery Act money.

    If the stimulus program is an issue that interests you, here are links to resources on the Web that I’ve come across. I bookmarked these sites through Diigo and you can click here for more recent pages as I find them.
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