Stimulus panel probes Porkulus waste — at the Ritz Carlton?

Rest assured that Sheriff Joe Biden has kept an eagle eye on waste in the Porkulus package, just as he promised.  In fact, the panel in charge of fighting waste plans to meet later this month — during the week of Thanksgiving, no less — to review the expenditures of the ARRA to ensure that they catch any waste or fraud.  They’ll hunker down in some government basement with flickering flourescent lighting, wearing their green eyeshades and wielding their spreadsheets, in order to ensure that every taxpayer dollar went to its intended target … right?

Not exactly:

Members of a key panel created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, better known as the stimulus bill, have scheduled a meeting on November 22 to consider ways to prevent “fraud, waste, and abuse of Recovery Act funds.” The meeting will be held at the super-luxe Ritz Carlton Hotel in Phoenix, Arizona.

The group is the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, a sub-committee of the larger Recovery Accountability and Transparency board (sometimes known as the RAT board). The stimulus bill set up the Recovery Independent Advisory Panel, or RIAP, to make recommendations to identify and prevent waste of the bill’s $814 billion in stimulus spending.

“The purpose of the November 22, 2010 meeting is to allow the RIAP to have an open dialogue, with input from the public, on issues relating to fraud, waste, and abuse of Recovery Act funds,” says a notice in the Federal Register.

Two questions come to mind here.  First is the obvious: with all of the meeting spaces available to the US government in its own facilities, why does the RIAP need to meet in a hotel at all, let alone the “super-luxe” Ritz Carlton?  If they want “input from the public,” holding the meeting in a school gymnasium would make more sense.  After all, with room rates at the Ritz starting at $229 for that date, there won’t be too many members of the public following the RIAP into the lap of luxury.

Second question: why Arizona?  While it’s true that the state was one of the big winners in Porkulus, with more than $10 billion of it spent in the state, it hardly seems useful for looking at national accountability.  There is a higher concentration of such states in the Ohio Valley and eastern Midwest region than in the interior West, as American Progress helpfully mapped before the bill’s passage.  Would it not be easier to review the records of Porkulus from inside Washington DC, where the money originates, rather than moving the entire panel and its staff to a five-star resort in the Camelback corridor in Phoenix?

This looks less like an exercise in accountability than an example for the need of it.

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