To: All Employees
Subject: American Recovery and Reinvestment Act
Recently the President signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (Recovery Act), which includes $3 billion in appropriations for programs funded in the Department of the Interior. Additional funds are appropriated to other Departments, such as the Departments of Transportation and Education, which will be allocated to projects on Interior lands or to benefit Interior constituencies. The Recovery Act presents us with a tremendous challenge and an unprecedented opportunity to invest in America’s timeless treasures, while helping working families and their communities to prosper again. In signing the Recovery Act, the President outlined goals for job creation through expedited spending, full transparency, and accountability to the American people. The breadth of the Recovery Act makes it crucial that all Department employees understand how the Department will implement the Recovery Act and how it may affect their duties.
The President has set a high bar for Federal agencies with an aggressive schedule to obligate $3 billion in 18 months. In meeting this requirement, however, we must not lose sight of the larger opportunity to make wise investments as stewards of our national landscapes, our history, and our rich cultural heritage.
In implementing the Recovery Act, the Administration has undertaken unprecedented efforts to ensure the responsible distribution of funds through merit-based decision making processes and to provide public transparency and accountability of expenditures. We must not allow Recovery Act funds to be distributed on the basis of any factor other than the merits of proposed projects, and particularly not in response to improper influence or pressure.
As a result of these considerations, the Department’s Recovery Act activities must follow these essential overarching policies:
Speak With One Voice
We must provide a much higher level of transparency and open communication than ever before. Our message to the American people will need to be coordinated with and supported by project data. It is important that Recovery Act project updates are timely, accurate, and informative, and any project information must be consistent with what is available to the public on Recovery.gov. Please follow guidance issued to ensure coordination of press releases, responses to requests for information, and web content for Recovery Act activities.
Make smart choices – I have met with the bureaus receiving recovery funds to review their allocation plans to ensure that our decisions result in projects that will:
- Stimulate the economy. (That is, they can be obligated and significantly completed by September 30, 2010);
- Maximize potential job opportunities;
- Result from the use of merit-based project selection processes; and
- Be prudent investments that support our mission areas.
In addition, to further goals that are unique to the Department of the Interior and our unified goals, I have also directed that projects:
- Help us to lay the foundation for the future, particularly moving us toward a clean energy economy for the 21st Century;
- Where possible, provide opportunities for the employment of young adults and engage their interest in environmental stewardship;
- Invest in the restoration of Interior’s assets; including iconic structures, landscapes, and cultural resources; and
- Modernize our infrastructure with an emphasis on increased use of renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements.
Exercising good judgment is the most important factor in project selection. Specifically, we must avoid funding projects that could be interpreted to be an unwise or imprudent use of public funds. The Recovery Act also explicitly disallows the use of Recovery Act funds for gambling establishments, aquariums, zoos, golf courses, or swimming pools. It is our responsibility to ensure that the recipients of Recovery Act funds follow this direction, and we must be vigilant in our project oversight. There will be additional guidance forthcoming on reporting and tracking requirements related to project and financial performance. I ask that you identify any issues that you think may impair your ability to comply with this guidance and seek clarification from the appropriate official at the earliest possible opportunity. In this regard, we are working in partnership with the Office of Inspector General to develop robust oversight capability.
Work Together to Get the Job Done
Getting this job done right will take our collective best efforts, hard work, and extraordinary levels of communication and coordination. I am confident that this Department will successfully meet the challenges of the Recovery Act. I encourage each bureau to promptly assess its strengths and weaknesses in project execution and identify acquisition, finance, human capital, project management, and/or engineering needs that must be met to assure success.
Our Recovery Act Coordinator, Mr. Chris Henderson, will work with you to resolve any issues and help you meet the challenges of implementation, as well as to ensure we are sharing best practices and ideas across the Department. As we set things in motion, I ask you to coordinate as extensively as needed with Chris and with the Department’s Recovery Act Task Force and fully assist your bureau or office Recovery Coordinator. Recovery Coordinator contact information is available on the Department’s Recovery Act website.
Working together means utilizing all of the skills needed to make the program a success. You should be working closely with the Acquisition Executive in your organization throughout the planning process and ensure adequate support for this function and adhere to acquisition requirements. Guidance is forthcoming on this program component, as well as other important program components such as risk analysis.
Avoid Outside Influence
Project selection must be made through a rigorous internal review of objective criteria without the influence of outside parties. Finalization of Recovery Act plans and project lists is being vetted with the Office of Management and Budget to ensure we meet the President’s goals for merit-based project selection. The Recovery Act explicitly provides that considerations contained in oral or written communications from outside the Department concerning projects, applications, or applicants for funding are not to supersede or supplant the Department’s use of applicable merit-based criteria.
The President’s March 20, 2009, Memorandum, “Ensuring Responsible Spending of Recovery Act Funds,” specifically addresses contacts by lobbyists required to be registered under the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995, 2 U.S.C. 1601, et seq. The Memorandum is posted on the Department’s Recovery Act website. As a general matter, lobbyists are persons who represent clients and may contact you regarding Federal programs, policies, or activities. Section 3 of the President’s Memorandum mandates specific protocols for oral communications between agency officials and federally registered lobbyists. To help employees understand and comply with their responsibilities under the President’s Memorandum, interim guidance is attached along with frequently asked questions.
This is a very unique and landmark opportunity for the Department to make investments that will achieve long-term benefits for the public. I want to thank you for your efforts to make this undertaking a success of lasting importance. We have a real opportunity ahead of us to contribute to the restoration of our Nation’s economic vibrancy while also making historic investments in our Department’s truly unique and irreplaceable assets.