AMESBURY — After filing reports on 10 different pop-up computer screens, having the reports accepted and then getting a letter to resubmit additional reports, Amesbury police thought they had done everything needed to apply for federal stimulus funds.
But the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the Washington, D.C.-based watchdog agency charged with safeguarding federal money, placed them on its "two-time loser" list. The list was meant to identify and embarrass recipients of stimulus grants who have failed to file the first two required reports detailing how they spent their stimulus grants.
Instead, it's the watchdog group that ended up being embarrassed.
"I got a call we were on it (the list), but it was a mistake, and we had been taken off the loser list," Deputy Chief Gary Ingham said.
While the original list had 389 recipients, the revised list released Thursday includes 310 offenders. The Amesbury Police Department is no longer one of them.
Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, released a statement to the media apologizing for the error.
"This mistake should not have occurred, and I regret that it did," he said.
The problem was inconsistencies between the names from the spending records federal agencies sent to the board and the accounting reports, board spokesman Ed Pound said.
But yesterday, Cheryl Arvidson, assistant director of communications, said in an e-mail, "I suggest you discuss this with the Justice Department, which gave us the original list of recipients that were identified as failing to report for the first two reporting periods. After the Recovery Board review, our findings were sent to (Office of Management and Budget), and the Justice Department then was asked by OMB whether or not the listing was correct. Officials there should be able to respond to your questions."
Yesterday, a spokesman for the Department of Justice did not immediately return requests for an interview.
Ingham said the problem is not with the reporting parties but with the way the reports are taken.
"There are so many screens to report the grants on, Washington can't keep track of it themselves," Ingham said. "We always use the Grant Management System, which is easy to use and straightforward and then on top of that, they have all these other reporting venues for the same $25,000 grant, it's crazy."
Ingham, who is in charge of reporting grants along with Lt. Mark Gagnon, said the one stimulus grant the department got; a $25,000 Byrne Memorial Grant used for buying equipment, has needed to be filed under state and federal reporting systems.
"When stimulus money came out, they packaged it differently, so you may be receiving money from the Department of Justice, Department of Public Safety and Security, etc. so the reporting is split, and there are different requirements under different screens."
Ingham said the department has been filing to the best of their ability since the money was granted but a few months ago got a letter from the state's Inspector General noting they also have to report the federal grant through the state.
"It's because the state gets the money from the Fed, and they still have to report it," Ingham said. "The long and short of it is it's hardly streamlined, and I can see where departments would fall short because it's very confusing."
Ingham said when they received the letter from the state, he and Gagnon filed the grant everywhere they could online.
"We filed it on as many screens as would accept it," Ingham said. "This is all for one grant."
The erroneous list came to light after Washington area reporters began checking the list, finding numerous recipients had filed the correct reports.