The federal pandemic watchdog agency has unveiled its new website to disclose how states and localities are spending their flexible $350 billion share of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. But the website is recycled data that has been available elsewhere for months; the Treasury Department is inexplicably holding back much more-detailed records.
The oversight agency, known as the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee (PRAC), recently held a webinar on spending transparency where it unveiled its new ARPA State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund (SLFRF) dashboard.
We were immediately disappointed with PRAC’s new dashboard, quickly realizing that its data is severely lacking in granularity, especially when compared to the agency’s previous CARES Act spending dashboard. But after some prodding, it became clear that PRAC isn’t to blame for these deficiencies. The Treasury Department is.
PRAC’s previous Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) dashboard, similar to SLFRF in that it monitored flexible state and local CARES Act spending (of $150 billion), is far more detailed than its ARPA counterpart. CRF entries disclose how much states and localities received (known as prime recipients), the entities to which they awarded money (subrecipients), subrecipients’ award amounts and how much they spent, spending categories, and a description of the award. Many entries even include subrecipient addresses.
By contrast, PRAC’s SLFRF dashboard —currently made up of state and local spending from March 2021 through December 2021— is missing these nuances. Most entries list prime recipients, but very few specify subrecipients, and no addresses are provided. Instead, users get descriptions of entire grant programs that subrecipients will get their money from, how much was budgeted for the whole program, how much has been obligated, and spending categories.
The new dashboard also seems to display recycled information. The same data has actually been available since May on the U.S. Treasury’s website in an Excel format, the only difference being that PRAC’s dataset includes DUNS numbers and puts the numbers into an interactive map and bar graphs.
True, many states and localities were slow to spend their SLFRF funds at first, so a good portion of the money had not been awarded to specific entities by December of 2021. But there were some state programs and funds that did in fact have subrecipients by this date. This information is available elsewhere online, but absent from both PRAC’s dashboard and the Treasury’s dataset.
Take Wisconsin for example. Its state-level SLFRF tracker discloses subrecipients and award amounts for the Destination Marketing Organization Grant, the Hotel and Lodging Grant, and the Beyond the Classroom Grant—all of which were disbursed before December 2021.
After learning all of this we were ready to criticize PRAC in this blog. But when we reached out for a comment, we discovered that PRAC isn’t to blame for the mediocre transparency of its dashboard— the U.S. Treasury is.
It turns out there’s a big difference in the amount of data PRAC had access to with CRF and what it has access to now with SLFRF.
With CRF, states and localities reported their spending activities to the Treasury’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and PRAC is a committee of Inspectors General, including Treasury’s. So PRAC had all CRF data right away, which gave it the ability to create a comprehensive spending dashboard from the start. SLFRF is different. States and localities report their expenditures to the main Treasury, not the OIG.
This change in reporting has left PRAC on the outside of things. The main Treasury is not part of PRAC, so PRAC doesn’t have easy access to the complete SLFRF dataset. Instead, it has had to ask the Treasury for SLFRF data –subrecipients, addresses, etc.— and has been receiving the information field by field. PRAC got the DUNS numbers it requested, but it is still waiting for the Treasury to provide subrecipient entries.
The bottleneck is so bad PRAC is currently considering going around Treasury and working with state governments to get subrecipient data.
We reached out to the Treasury in hopes of getting a justification for the data gaps, but we didn’t get the answer we were hoping for, only that there’s quite a bit of information for their team to piece through. They assured us that they’re highly committed to transparency and working as quickly as they can to post detailed recipient data.
States and localities are required to report their ARPA spending activities until April 2027, so this data will hopefully become richer over time, but better data is available now. Constituents deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent in real time, so they can advocate for better priorities if necessary.