Thursday, September 10, 2009

Hurry Up and Follow Procedure!

In dealing with stimulus money, my college is caught between the dog and the fire hydrant.

On the one side, we have glaring needs, and the whole point of the stimulus is to get the money moving quickly into the economy. We've identified the ways we'd like to spend our allocation, and without being unduly braggy, I'll admit they're pretty good. The money will move rapidly through different sectors of the local economy, particularly in areas where it's most needed. And some of what we're paying for will actually reduce our operating costs (energy and hvac, mostly) in the future.

Note the future tense. Although the feds allocated the money months ago, and the whole point was to get things moving quickly, we haven't spent a dime of it yet. And I'm telling the *(&%# truth when I say it's not for lack of trying.

The enemy is Procedure.

The Feds have their usual set of processes. The state, through which the money is run, has its. And we have local processes, too. Add to that the special processes attached to ARRA money, and the unfortunate but likely expectation that it will be held to higher scrutiny than other money. Of course, each set of processes exists largely independent of the others, each set has to be interpreted, and some of the strike zones are maddeningly narrow. The net result is that the money is just sitting there, not stimulating anything.


This is what happens when piles of money come with separate strings. (Anybody who has dealt with managing a federal grant can attest to the cartoonishly elaborate paperwork involved in those. This is like that, but with state rules added on top.) If you're really serious about getting money into the economy quickly, and you want to shore up education while you're at it, there's a really simple and quick way that avoids all of this silliness without compromising transparency.

Direct it straight into the operating budgets.

We already have established, audited, well-known processes for handling operating budgets. This is what we use to pay salaries, utilities, and the day-to-day expenses of actually running the college. Faculty salaries, both full-time and adjunct, come from here. If you want us to, say, add sections of classes to accommodate the influx of students, this is how we'd pay for that. When states attack cc budgets, this is what they hit. If you want to turn around the trend towards adjuncts, this is the budget line to stuff. Yet this is the one thing that nobody is willing to do.

So if you're looking for work, wondering how much longer you can hold on, you can take comfort that at least we won't violate procedure.