Stimulus funds slowed by small state office

A small state office with the responsibility of reviewing federally funded construction projects has a two-month backlog that is slowing California’s flow of stimulus dollars, according to the state’s money tracker.

California is due for about $85 billion in federal stimulus funds, which includes some $50 billion in spending and $35 billion in tax relief.

Laura Chick, the inspector general appointed by the governor to ride herd on California’s share of federal stimulus money, said hundreds of projects were being delayed by reviews at the California Office of Historic Preservation.

She made the comments in a letter to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It is a challenge for government, however, to bring any construction project to fruition,” Chick said. “There are numerous hoops to jump through including permits, competitive bids, wage requirements, environmental regulations and historic preservation rules. By law, the State’s Office of Historic Preservation is required to sign-off before construction projects begin.  Due to the Recovery Act there has been a marked increase in the number and type of projects and this has resulted in a two month backlog which is growing exponentially as more projects advance forward. In addition, some state departments which are receiving Recovery funds have never had to deal with the National Protection of Historical Properties Law.  These departments require additional attention with training and consultation,” she wrote.

Chick told the governor that reviewing projects as small as heating or air conditioning units were figuring in the delays of far larger projects, most of which translate into jobs for California workers.

“It is clear that a very focused and high level effort must be undertaken to solve this problem,” she said. “Those potentially include modifying furloughs for key personnel, finding ways to transfer staff from other departments (such as analysts who could perform some of the required preliminary work),  streamline the hiring process, rehire on a short-term basis retired state employees and conduct an open-call for experienced volunteers.”

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