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Beefy Résumé for a Giant Job: Policing Stimulus Spending
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine, who serves on Devaney's board, said: "With that kind of money, that kind of temptation, when you see the history of dollars spent, some of it will be misused. We have to face that reality. But the effort is to deter that, to minimize that, and to hold accountable people who do that."
The government has rarely been praised for its transparency in contracting, said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight. "Now all of a sudden the public is expecting absolute transparency immediately."
"Millions of eyes want to be watching how the money's being spent. I'm expecting the board and all the inspectors generals to not be getting much sleep," Brian said.
The stimulus provides about $350 million for oversight, most of which is spread among accountability units in agencies. Of that, Devaney received $84 million to run the RAT Board through September 2011.
One of its biggest tools is Recovery.gov, which promises an extensive database of stimulus spending and contracts. The idea is for citizens, journalists and watchdogs to scour the site and detect projects or contracts that appear suspicious. They will be "the first line of defense in seeing fraud and waste," Devaney said.
The federal government has never had such a large database, although Devaney said a model is Maryland's StateStat program, created by Gov. Martin O'Malley (D), which measures public safety, health care and social services.
But in yesterday's hearing, Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he thinks Recovery.gov is not yet up to par and asked the administration to develop a better approach.
Since signing the stimulus legislation last month, Obama summoned the nation's governors, mayors and other state and municipal officials to the White House to hammer home the priorities of accountability and transparency. Biden warned local officials Wednesday that if he detects wasteful stimulus spending, he will use the power of his office to publicize it.
"I'll show up in your city and say, 'This is a stupid idea,' " Biden said. "You think I'm kidding. This is the only part the president was right about: Don't mess with Joe."
Politicians and whistleblower advocates praised Devaney, saying he has proved himself in 39 years of government service to be a zealous watchdog of government abuse. He began his career as a Massachusetts police officer before moving in 1970 to the Secret Service, where he protected presidents as a special agent and investigated crimes in the fraud division.
At the Interior Department, he spearheaded a series of investigations that brought down several employees, including the deputy secretary, who were connected to the bribery scandal surrounding lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"He's the best of the IGs, when you look around," Towns said. "He's the Super Bowl guy, no question about it."
Staff writer Ed O'Keefe contributed to this report.