Obama to Hold Cities Accountable for Stimulus Spending

Invoking his own name-and-shame policy, President Barack Obama warned the nation's mayors Friday that he will 'call them out' if they waste the money from his massive economic stimulus plan. Video by AP
By Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, February 21, 2009

President Obama warned the nation's mayors yesterday that he will hold officials at all levels of government accountable for how they spend federal stimulus money, pledging to "call them out" if the funding is wasted on projects that do not generate jobs for the struggling economy.

"If a federal agency proposes a project that will waste that money, I will not hesitate to call them out on it and put a stop to it," Obama told a gathering of 80 mayors at the White House.

The sharp language was a first salvo aimed at reassuring the public that the historic $787 billion devoted to the spending and tax cut plan will not be squandered. Aides said the president intends to send the same message to governors when they gather for a White House dinner this weekend.

It is also an effort to respond to Republican critics who contend that there are too few controls -- and too many opportunities for fraud and abuse -- associated with the biggest single outlay of federal money in government history.

"If you're seeking to simply fund a personal agenda at the expense of creating jobs and using taxpayer money to do it, the president will call that out and stop it," press secretary Robert Gibbs said yesterday. "That's true for agencies and members of this administration. That's true for governors. That's true for mayors. That's true for anybody that might take part in any amount of this funding."

After a closed-door meeting with Obama and several of his Cabinet officials in the East Wing of the White House, several of the mayors said they welcomed the scrutiny.

"We get called out every day at the local level," said Miami Mayor Manuel A. Diaz, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors. "We have plenty of constituents that will be doing that before the president does."

Obama's signing of the stimulus plan on Tuesday means that money will soon begin flowing, setting off political scrambles in states and cities over who controls how that funding will be spent.

Several mayors said they urged Obama and his team to make sure that the money does not become bottlenecked at the state level, where some Republican governors have waffled about whether they want the funding.

South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford called the stimulus plan a "fundamentally stupid idea that would ultimately damage the economy, damage the capitalistic system that has been the envy of the world." He has since said on CBS that "being against the plan doesn't preclude taking the money."

Republican mayors, who saw their party leaders in Washington fiercely oppose the stimulus package, nonetheless said after the meeting with Obama that they planned to be just as aggressive in seeking -- and spending -- the money the legislation provides.

Charlotte Mayor Pat McCrory said he worries that too much money will be spent recklessly on projects that have no long-term benefits. But he said he will not turn it down.

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