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Stimulus brings need for speed to Colorado

Miles Moffeit
The Denver Post

Colorado’s purchasing laws may be too rigid to meet federal requirements for swiftly doling out portions of economic-stimulus funds, say state officials studying whether a quick legislative fix is needed.

By not bringing its purchasing rules in line with the federal government’s, Colorado risks losing some of its anticipated recovery money.

In a related development, the federal General Accountability Office has pegged Colorado and 15 other states for an extensive multi-year audit of stimulus spending, putting them under heavier scrutiny than most states.



And the watchdog agency has its own strict timelines.

“This is a new ballgame for everyone, and we’re under all sorts of deadlines,” said Don Elliman, chairman of the Colorado Economic Recovery Accountability Board, formed to track federal stimulus funds.



Other states are pursuing legislation so that they can make more people or agencies eligible for funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, or ARRA. Efforts range from minor housekeeping to major revisions of unemployment insurance laws so more workers are eligible.

As for Colorado, Elliman and other state agency officials said Friday that they are studying whether changes are needed in purchasing standards. The state is estimated to receive $3.5 billion in direct spending over the next two years.

ARRA provides a variety of required timelines for awarding projects, some as tight as 120 days, Elliman said.



“We’ll need to find a way to not shortcut our principles but get the work done in a good deal less time or change the formulas,” he said.

Some state agencies that commonly deal with moving big-ticket bidding projects quickly ” such as the Transportation Department ” appear to be in better shape, Elliman said. Transportation officials must obligate half of their stimulus allotment within a four-month period. The agency began soliciting proposals last week for $35 million worth of road projects.

“Some agencies that don’t get a lot (of funds) aren’t as prepared,” Elliman said. Those departments need “the infrastructure for decision-making and disbursement that today doesn’t exist.”

Officials still have time to make changes, he stressed. The legislature is scheduled to adjourn May 6.

Though ARRA makes strict time demands to try to jolt the economy into gear, it also insists on several new layers of accountability. Millions of dollars have been earmarked to expand inspector general staffing, which will audit federal agencies, and GAO oversight, which will focus on state and local distribution.

The GAO picked Colorado and 15 other states for bimonthly reviews of stimulus spending.

“These states contain about 65 percent of the U.S. population and are estimated to receive about two-thirds of the intergovernmental grant funds available through the Recovery Act,” according to a GAO report.

Chuck Young, managing director for GAO public affairs, said his team has been “on the ground” for only about a week but is putting in place a framework for reporting back to Congress every 60 days on each state’s progress.

Said Elliman: “We look at the GAO as a positive. We’re hopeful we can work with them and get their advice and assistance facing issues up front as opposed to discovering them years later.”

Miles Moffeit: 303-954-1415 or mmoffeit@denverpost.com


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