Monday, March 16, 2009

*How* to spend the stimulus bill

Most of the political debate has been about whether we need a stimulus package, whether all the pork has or has not been stripped out of the package, etc. But now that we have a package, the screech of the rubber hitting the road is in the paucity of ideas on *how* to spend the money (not on what, although that's another topic entirely).

But by and large, this isn't a sexy topic. The rules and incentives you set up on spending is the minutiae of bureaucratic work--but as Sir Humphrey Appleby knows well, you can win or lose a lot of battles there. And it's hard to report on. So I was pleased ... until I wasn't, when I heard a story on NPR the other day about how to exercise oversight over spending. The story pointed to the procedures developed at NEA after the Mapplethorpe etc. flap as one way to go. I'm sure I'm not doing the rules justice, but it came down to accepting no applicants who weren't already approved and vetted NEA grant recipients (in other words the usual suspects), and limiting grant requests to 2 sizes--$25,000 or $50,000--to make it easier to process. The commentary in the piece sort of says it all in terms of what bizarre sorts of behavior you could end up with:

But that's one grant protocol that poses a challenge for grant writers. They never want to ask for too little — arts groups are constantly cash-strapped. Ask for too much, though, and they might price themselves out of the competition and get nothing at all. It can be a tricky calculus.

As a good ex-bureaucrat myself I know that rules like this work to get money out of the door faster, and if the money doesn't get out of the door it doesn't have any stimulus effect. But are we reduced to reaching for a process that was developed essentially to prevent public funds from being spent for outre art in figuring out exactly how to spend the stimulus package? I know there aren't easy answers, but this is an unprecedented opportunity/challenge.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

we can't afford to waste that kind of money. we need to be more frugal.