The Illusion of Government Recovery at Work

February 4, 2010

Investigative Reports

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The NerveJane Page Thompson
Citizen Reporter

 

With dumpsters blocking the handicapped parking and fresh paint stinging the nostrils, it smelled like our government recovery at work. In Barnwell last week at the South Carolina Business Center, a large brick building with no signage and an overused interior, Recovery.gov was the topic.

What was billed by the area papers as a seminar to inform local businesses how to work for or obtain contracts with the Savannah River Site under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act turned out to be a lesson in bureaucracy.

The room was still being set up as attendees arrived with very little direction as to the agenda and set to start at 11:30 a.m. and go until 1:30 p.m. The box lunch held body and soul together and getting it took longer than the seminar itself, which concluded before 12:30.

Gary Ryan from the ARRA Office (yes there were more strings of letters identifying functions and people than any alphabet could handle) began by saying, “We have until Sept. 30, 2011, to spend $1.4 billion, yes, billion dollars.”

He went on to say that: “When we were asked how to handle the distribution of $1.4 billion through the existing SRS procurement office, we said the best thing to do is to start a new office and expand the procedures.”

The new office is in the Aiken County Research Campus along with the DOE, Department of Energy Oversight office. The relocation was thought to speed the registration process up for businesses and allow for fewer security issues at the main gates.

Since being awarded the $1.4 billion, the recovery procurement office has spent $273 million in contracts on site and in staffing up with over 900 augmented jobs. Of the $273 million, an estimated $62 million has gone to new business contractors with the site, which has to date has approximately 450 registered contractors.

The federal government requires that of the funds awarded, portions go to local, women- and minority-owned businesses; but when asked what constitutes a local business, the answer was the address only.

In true government fashion the power point presentation showed several Web sites, contact numbers and award percentages so small the first table could hardly be seen and there were no handouts with the required Web sites.

The main point: “Go to www.srs.gov and register to be considered to be a possible business that could be asked to apply for a contract or go to www.fbo.gov to see what projects we are asking for bids on.

“All businesses wanting to work, supply or contract with the site must register and have a ‘DUNS’ number, which all can happen at www.recovery.gov.”

So there you have it: the Web sites that you can use to find out what jobs are being posted for bid, what companies are hiring for ALL types of jobs and how you can register for contract consideration.

Only would an official in an office within a company partnered with a corporation contracted by the government would think that small business owners have the time to eat a box lunch in order to learn what Web sites they should surf when they get back to their offices.

A more efficient and possibly more effective way to have informed local businesses of these possible opportunities would have been an email with the sites and all of the required forms as attachments. Free and easy – but then again, I don’t work for the government or a private company that works for the government.

At first I thought I would be appalled at the rate in which these companies are spending this money, but they have found a way to make the process slow with additional paperwork, quarterly filings and mandatory updates, and at the current rate they may never get a chance to spend all $1.4 billion, anyway.

If in the last 9-1/2 months they have only spent $273 million and they have 15-1/2 more months to spend $1.1 billion they need to pick up the pace because their current rate of spending is a mere $28.7 million per month.

But wait this is our money they are spending so I am glad that the creation of new offices and procedures has slowed the recovery spending to a relative dribble.

Yes, some local businesses will benefit from this money, but a majority, thus far, has been awarded to companies in Michigan, Tennessee, Idaho and Virginia. And as for the number of people laid off from the site that re-hired through the recovery, the best guess they could give was that of the 900 augmented staffing jobs about 15-20 were “old SRS.”

With unemployment so high in areas around the site, job postings are good news, but the question remains – will locals really get the jobs?