Millions for Stimulus Signs

President Obama’s accountability and transparency board provided only a sampling of either when it came to how much signs cost to advertise $787 billion worth of stimulus projects.

Six federal agencies told to reveal the total expenditures say the signs cost more than $9 million.

At least one federal agency said that providing such accountability and transparency constitutes as a “burden.”

The price tags for some of those billboards, logos and emblems range from $3 to $10,000 and amounts to what one lawmaker calls “politically advantageous” advertisement.

“This has generated controversy because of the common perception that taxpayer funds are being wasted on what amounts to political propaganda on behalf of the Obama Administration,” said Darrell Issa (R.-Calif.).

Issa, who is the ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, asked June 24 for some oversight from the Recovery Act Accountability and Transparency Board.

Nearly three months later, the answers are not very revealing.

“Not only won’t they tell us, those responding made it pretty clear they can’t tell us,” said Seamus Kraft, Issa’s spokesman. “He [Issa] was disappointed, but not surprised.”

The Commerce Department sampled a handful of bureaus and looked at 65 grants and contracts and determined that nearly $77,000 had been spent—a fraction of the cost of more than $266 million of those awards, it noted.

Housing Urban Development also did a sample survey and estimates that $314,000 out of certain funds was probably spent on signs for $10 billion worth of projects.

To compile the actual costs, “would have posed an immense administrative burden,” HUD Deputy Secretary Ron Sims told Board Chairman Earl Devaney in his response.

Craig E. Hook, assistant administrator for the EPA said “recipients are not required to report signage information and the agency does not possess such information.”

Instead, the agency listed the cost of signs for about a dozen projects; 250 signs that cost $3.20 each, plus another 35 signs that totaled more than $5,400.
The General Services Administration also gave a sample of 105 projects for which it said $120,000 was spent on signs.

“Signage costs are not identified as a separate line item, but are embedded as part of the contractor’s … portion of the bid total and overall project cost,” the agency said.

Two government departments were more forthcoming, Defense and Transportation.

The Transportation Department says it has spent more than $8 million on signs, while the Defense Department said signs are already required on construction projects and that adding the official stimulus act logo would only cost an estimated $11,000.

“Unfortunately, the cost estimate provided by federal agencies fall short of the information you requested … and raise serious questions about the ability of the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board (RAT Board) to obtain the information necessary to bring transparency and accountability to the expenditure of stimulus funds,” Issa and Rep. Aaron Schock (R-Ill.) said in a letter Thursday to Devaney.

“The President promised the American people that he would hold stimulus recipients accountable for ‘every dollar’ of spending; a promise he cannot keep if his own departments cannot tell the RAT Board or Congress how much taxpayer money is being wasted on self-congratulatory signs or other wasteful spending plaguing stimulus projects,” the lawmakers said.

Either resources have not been allocated to perform adequate oversight, “or they are thumbing their noses at us,” Kraft said.

Obama promised an “unprecedented oversight effort” of the stimulus bill, but it has been rife with potential misuse including an erroneous allocation of funding to a congressional district that didn’t exist.