APME/AP/SUNLIGHT OFFER STIMULUS TOOLS
Sunday, July 26, 2009
Posted by: Mark Mittelstadt
APME has again partnered with The Associated Press and the Sunlight Foundation to tackle an investigative reporting project with national legs.
We begin a long range database project to help you gauge the effectiveness of the federal stimulus program in your market – whether jobs are being created, how much of the nearly $800 billion is being disbursed at home and to whom those payments are going.
The notion is to use federal data to fuel local stories. And if newspapers nationwide use old-fashioned gumshoe reporting to augment the many data sets released during the coming year, our collective efforts will bring meaningful perspective to one of the most important stories of our time.
The spreadsheet linked here and made available for your use is the final list of projects approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and presents more than 5,853 projects nationwide. Location and costs are broken out for individual jobs – more than $19 billion in all. These numbers were made final in late July. In October, federal officials are scheduled to release numbers of full time-equivalent-positions created for each transportation project.
The Associated Press compiled the spreadsheet based on data acquired from the feds, and enhanced it with additional information that localizes the data. The spreadsheet can be used to identify all projects in each state, county, metro area and congressional district. It also gives a brief description of each project, the amount of stimulus funds obligated, and classifies the type of work to be done.
So, we begin with Transportation. But in coming months we will send to you data sets including Infrastructure, Law Enforcement, the Environment, Housing, Energy, Health Care, Military Construction, Education and State and Local Budgetary Support (largely aimed at preventing layoffs in the health and education sectors).
We are not angling for an en-masse publishing target as we did last year, when more than 100 newspapers published stories on earmarks in the federal budget. You're free to use the data and story suggestions at will. We would ask that you send electronic copies of your work to APME Executive Director Mark Mittelstadt, so this work can be compiled online.
You may have written about some of these transportation projects when the concept of "shovel ready" was introduced earlier this spring. But this final list gives you the precise amount being spent in your area, and can assist you in doing analysis of nearby states and congressional districts, and how much is being spent on bridges vs. paving, etc.
As you check the spreadsheet there are some obvious targets:
■ If descriptions for the projects are vague (and most are) call state DOT and ask for translation and details. Compare projects on this list to your state's official transportation plan (typically called the TIP or STIP). Do all of the projects make sense? All 50 states beat the Obama Administration's June 29 deadline to have half of their stimulus projects for roads and bridges approved for inclusion in funds distributed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Were projects in your market added in the final hours? If they were not on the original plan, how did they rise to the top? Whose pet projects are they?
■ Determine from state DOTs how many of these projects have gone out to bid. Are any being awarded without a competitive bid?
■ Background the contractors. What kind of campaign contributions did they make to your governor or other highly placed elected officials. Have they been fined or cited for problems on other jobs? Are they based in the state in which the work is being done? Or is your state creating jobs for contractors in other states?
■ Where are these projects being done? Wealthy suburbs? Poor cities? In districts where governors need to shore up support for the next election cycle? In areas controlled by the ruling party but absent from the minority? Compare unemployment statistics to the districts where the work is being done so you can determine if the projects are being built in areas that need the jobs the most.
President, APME Foundation
Editor of The News Journal