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May 14th, 2010

Friday federal funding facts: ‘Same old, same old’

Published on May 14th, 2010 | By: pwray@ceramics.org

U.S. Department of Energy

I finally got someone in the DOE press office to field some of my questions about why Recovery Act checks aren’t being sent! Ahem, that only took about 8 months. Unfortunately, I am still waiting on my answers (the press officer actually has been very nice, but struggling with this issue, too.)

The party line within DOE about the why less than 13% of the Recovery Act money has been paid out is two-fold:

1) Some of the monies have been awarded to state and local governments as well as some governmental-type entities. The DOE claims the entities getting these “community” awards only need to know that they will be receiving the award, and that they can begin hiring immediately. The DOE sends checks when these entities ask for reimbursement.

Now, this isn’t an area I know much about, but it doesn’t ring true given that nearly every state and local government budgets are in dire financial straits and seems to me that they would want their money ASAP.

2) For funds targeted or private businesses, academic institution, federal labs and nonprofit research groups, DOE says, “The process for disbursing the funds is longer because applicants must be given time to submit applications, and then the Department needs time to review the [competitive] applications to make final selections.”

That was true over a year ago, but this argument is bunk now. Earlier this month, DOE’s Matt Rogers issued a report stating that 99% of the Recovery Act awards and grants have been made. According to my conservative estimate, at least $12.5 billion has been awarded since March 2009 to private businesses, academic institution, federal labs and nonprofit research groups.

I reminded my friendly DOE press officer Secretary Chu announced in Feb. 2009 that 70 percent of Recovery act “investments” will be disbursed by the end of 2010. I think he was sincere in that statement, but shaking up the funding bureaucracy is very, very hard. Chu assigned Rogers to shake things up, and I am sure Rogers is trying. And maybe the problem isn’t within the DOE. Maybe someone needs to send a message to the award recipients to start speeding up the spending the money

Either way, the money isn’t flowing, and Chu will be lucky if he can report that half of his goal (35%) of Recovery Act disbursements are made by the end of the year. Hopefully, the DOE will prove me wrong.

Ditto for the National Science Foundation.


    National Science Foundation

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