Florida – December 10, 2009

The content below was excerpted from the Florida Appendix (PDF, 23 pages) of GAO's fourth bimonthly review of the Recovery Act.[1]

Contents

What We Did

Our work in Florida focused on specific programs funded under the Recovery Act: the Highway Infrastructure Investment Program; the State Fiscal Stabilization Fund (SFSF); Title I, Part A of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA), as amended; and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), as amended. We looked at the status of program funding, how funds are being used, and other issues specific to each program.

For our review of highway investment, we selected two Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) districts—one in northeast Florida (District 2) and another in central Florida (District 5)—to understand the pace of contract awards for local highway projects. We selected these districts because they varied in terms of having projects administered mainly either by FDOT or local agencies. To gain an understanding of the state’s experience in meeting Recovery Act recipient reporting requirements, we examined documents prepared by, and held discussions with, officials in FDOT, the Florida Office of Economic Recovery, and the office of Florida’s Chief Inspector General. We specifically focused our work on FDOT’s methodology for collecting data on job creation and retention, and on FDOT’s experience in preparing the first quarterly report due to federalreporting.gov and submitted by October 10, 2009. We also examined recipient reporting, use of Recovery Act funds in local government budget stabilization in southwest Florida, and contract management practices. We visited one city, Fort Myers (population 65,394), and one county, Lee (population 593,136), to determine the amount of Recovery Act funds each is receiving and how those funds are being used. We selected these local governments because they have high unemployment and foreclosure rates relative to the state average. In September 2009, unemployment in Fort Myers and Lee County was 12.1 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively—higher than Florida’s average rate of 11.2 percent and the United States’ rate of 9.8 percent for that period.[2]

To review education programs, we gathered information on Florida’s plan to monitor the use of SFSF allocations by local educational agencies (LEAs) and to seek waivers on ESEA Title I, Part A funds, which are made available for programs for disadvantaged students. In addition, we briefed state officials and obtained their comments on the results of GAO’s nationwide survey of LEAs and on the Florida results specifically. We also talked to the Inspectors General of several Florida agencies about their oversight role for Recovery Act funds. For descriptions and requirements of the programs we covered, see appendix XVIII of GAO-10-232SP.

What We Found

Highway Infrastructure Investment

The pace of awarding contracts is generally lower in FDOT districts with large numbers of projects suballocated for metropolitan and local use in conjunction with projects administered by local agencies rather than by the state, according to FDOT officials. FDOT officials said projects managed by local agencies may face delays because additional time is required to educate local agencies on federal requirements and for project coordination and required reviews and approvals by FDOT. In addition, statewide, FDOT has identified excess funds of about $202 million as the result of construction contracts awarded for less than the official project estimate, according to FDOT officials. The excess funds can be used to fund other highway projects. FDOT officials said they plan to seek Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) approval for obligating the funds by December 31, 2009.

Contract Management and Oversight

According to FDOT officials, FDOT uses its standard procedures and processes to award and manage Recovery Act-funded highway construction projects. FDOT’s Inspector General said the office’s recent audits related to contract management and oversight, such as single source[3] and limited competition contracts,[4] incentive payment analysis, and contract estimating, have not identified weaknesses that would affect FDOT’s ability to award and manage contracts.

Recipient Reporting

According to state officials, Florida state agencies experienced no significant issues collecting and reporting recipient information for the first required quarterly report due October 10, 2009. At FDOT—the one agency at which we examined reporting in greater detail—officials said there were no significant problems. Florida has a centralized system into which all 17 pertinent state agencies report Recovery Act data. The state developed and tested the system well in advance of reporting deadlines. Agencies took steps to validate data, such as recipient name, address, number of subrecipients/vendors, and Recovery Act funds received and expended. However, for one agency we looked at, FDOT, subrecipients and vendors were not required to submit verification of their job data, but were advised to maintain documentation, according to FDOT officials. For two subrecipients we visited, both kept documentation of tabulated hours and wages associated with Recovery Act projects for regular employees, but only one did so for management employees. The Florida state Recovery Czar expressed concerns that the federal Office of Management and Budget (OMB) methodology for calculating jobs created and retained will underestimate the numbers, and that guidance provided to state agencies by various federal agencies may differ with that of OMB.

Local Governments’ Use of Recovery Act Funds

Officials from Lee County and, to a lesser extent, the City of Fort Myers, said they anticipate using available Recovery Act funds primarily to expand existing services or fund new initiatives on a nonrecurring basis. Recovery Act funding contributed only a small amount to the county’s and city’s budgets. As of November 18, 2009, the county had been awarded $16.3 million and the city $4.5 million for use over multiple years, a small amount of a single fiscal year (2010) operating budget of about $1 billion county and $241 million city. Lee County and Fort Myers have largely used their own financial reserves rather than Recovery Act funds to stabilize their annual budgets because, according to local officials, the type of funding available to fill budget gaps does not meet their greatest needs and certain grants require local governments to use their own funds when the grant period expires.

Education Funding and Monitoring

Florida LEAs largely used Recovery Act funding to retain teachers and staff. An estimated 86 percent of Florida LEAs are planning to use over half of their SFSF funding to retain staff compared with an estimated 63 percent of LEAs nationally. A senior Florida official reported that the state successfully implemented a three-part monitoring plan for the largest portion of Recovery Act education funding, the SFSF; however, officials said the monitoring requirements doubled staff workload. State education officials also said they applied for ESEA Title I, Part A waivers to provide more flexibility for LEAs on how they spend Recovery Act funds to improve education.

Florida Inspector General Oversight

The Inspectors General (IG) community in Florida continues to play a prominent role in providing oversight for Recovery Act expenditures and reporting, and guidance. The community has targeted specific areas of emphasis for different groups of IGs, including fraud deterrence and data quality.

Full December ReportBack to top

Recovery Act: Status of States' and Localities' Use of Funds and Efforts to Ensure Accountability
GAO-10-231
Recovery Act: Status of States' and Localities' Use of Funds and Efforts to Ensure Accountability
(Appendixes)
GAO-10-232SP
  • [1] Pub. L. No. 111-5, 123 Stat. 115 (Feb. 17, 2009).
  • [2] U.S. Census Bureau and U.S. Department of Labor. Population data are from July 1, 2008. Unemployment rates are preliminary estimates for September 2009 and have not been seasonally adjusted. Rates are a percentage of the labor force. Estimates are subject to revision.
  • [3] According to FDOT’s Office of Inspector General, single source contracts occur when a contract can only be satisfied with commodities or services from one vendor and there are no known able competitors.
  • [4] According to FDOT’s Office of Inspector General, limited competition contracts are contracts for construction projects that receive only one bid.
GAO Contact
portrait of of Andrew Sherrill

Andrew Sherrill

Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security

sherrilla@gao.gov

(202) 512-7252