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Economic Stimulus Brings New Tasks to Government Project Management

written by: Brian Nelson • edited by: Jean Scheid • updated: 7/6/2011

When it comes to projects for government, plain vanilla project management has never really cut it. The flood of economic stimulus dollars headed toward government entities across the country means that even more tweaks are required.

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    ARRA – American Recovery & Reinvestment Act

    The American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, or ARRA was passed into law by Congress in an effort to stimulate the US economy through certain kinds of government spending, particularly those that would either create new jobs, or mitigate the possible loss of jobs.

    However, government projects are notoriously slow to create, fund and implement. As such, there was a concern that government spending to stimulate the economy would be too late because the actual funds would take too long to reach their intended targets. Too alleviate this concern, the government directed recipients of stimulus funds to prioritize projects for which funds could be allocated quickly.

    While government bureaucracy is almost universally derided, the fact remains that many of the procedures and spending controls in place are there to reduce the possibility of waste and fraud. The concept of cities, states, and counties running around spending billions of dollars without the usual checks and controls quickly raised the specter of widespread corruption and fraud. These problems would be both politically embarrassing and risk undermining the potential benefits from stimulus spending.

    To mitigate these concerns, ARRA mandates that all recipients of stimulus spending dollars report how, when, where, and with whom, these dollars are spent on a quarterly basis. Additionally, stimulus funds recipients must also track and report how many jobs were created or saved by that spending.

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    Stimulus Funds Project Management and Tracking Challenges

    government For many entities that receive stimulus funds, this level of tracking and reporting may already be done on a different scale or in a different manner, or it may be completely different than any level of management and reporting done in the past. Regardless, virtually all entities will require new ways to handle this new federal mandate.

    Creating a new application or system from scratch for handling these new levels of reporting is not likely to be an attractive alternative. ARRA spending is temporary, and possibly very short-lived depending upon the program involved. Additionally, the first reports are due in October which makes for too short of a timeline for success.

    That leaves governments and contractors to choose between modifying an existing system, or implementing a new pre-packaged tracking system. The decision likely rests upon how closely a current tracking and spending system matches up to the new requirements and how easily implementing the necessary changes or additions will be.

    For those without a usable system already in place, purchasing a stimulus tracking and reporting system may make the most sense. However, with the tight time frames involved and the small amount of time such a system will be needed for, many entities will find it to be too time consuming and cost prohibitive to purchase and install a new software system along with the required hardware.

    Online, web-based systems will therefore be the preferred method of tracking and reporting. Several vendors have already released products designed specifically to keep a handle on stimulus dollars and create the necessary reports. Products such as Acumen Solutions' START, IBM’s Cognos, CGI Reporting Gateway, and Microsoft’s Stimulus 360 are all available now and should be given immediate consideration for any group or department that will be receiving ARRA distributions.