Devaney: Transparency Causes Embarrassment and Spurs Self-Correcting Behavior

Jul 29, 2011, 07:00 ET from Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board

WASHINGTON, July 29, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In his second column on the lessons he has learned as Chairman of the Recovery Board, Earl E. Devaney focuses on how transparency can cause embarrassment and, in turn, encourage self-correcting behavior.


In his Chairman's Corner column published on, Devaney cites the controversy over so-called phantom congressional districts in the early days of the Recovery program.  He also discusses the Board's decision to publicly identify recipients of Recovery funds that failed to submit spending reports.

"In the first year of the Recovery program, after we began collecting spending data from recipients of economic stimulus funds for posting on, I felt much like a prizefighter doubled over in pain," he said.

"More than 127,000 recipients submitted spending reports to, our password-protected website used to collect the data.  Most recipients did a good job, and the quality of the data was excellent. But some, quite frankly, submitted reports filled with errors while others refused to file a report, ignoring their obligation to taxpayers."

Devaney said "all hell broke loose" when recipients inadvertently entered the wrong congressional district in reports that were posted on the website.  That led some reporters and bloggers to charge that the Board had allowed taxpayer funds to disappear into "phantom'' congressional districts.

Although no money actually disappeared, the problem needed to be fixed immediately.

"This was no time for excuses, and the Board gave none. We were plainly embarrassed by the kerfuffle over the misreporting of congressional districts. We wasted no time fixing the problem with edit checks that wouldn't permit recipients to enter the wrong congressional district in future spending reports," he wrote.

In addition, Devaney said the Board decided to crack down on recipients that failed to submit 4,359 spending reports on Recovery projects as required by law. By publishing their identities and getting the federal agencies that distributed the Recovery funds "to step up their efforts against reporting scofflaws," the number of non-reporters has dropped dramatically, he said.

"Although I have been in government for more than 40 years, I subscribe to the theory that old dogs can learn new tricks. In this case, I learned this important lesson: Transparency often causes embarrassment, which, in turn, causes self-correcting behavior," Devaney said.

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SOURCE Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board