Concerns raised on pace of stimulus

The money — nearly $1 billion a day — has gone mainly toward highway repairs, financial aid for states, nuclear waste cleanup and other public works, the reports show. In the package, $499 billion is for new spending — the rest is to finance tax cuts, which are reflected starting this month in lower withholding from workers' paychecks.

Critics say the government should speed up spending. "It's disappointing, given the urgency ... that we've only been able to spend $60 billion," says Brookings Institution economist Isabel Sawhill. She says the government must hire contractors and get projects reviewed — safeguards that slow the flow of money.

The Obama administration says it's pleased with the pace. "We're on track. We're moving nicely," says Ed DeSeve, an adviser to Obama who oversees recovery efforts.

The U.S. government has spent about $13 billion of the $60 billion it promised for specific projects, nearly all to help states pay for health care for elderly and low-income Americans. The reports do not say how many jobs have been created.

A handful of agencies — including the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs — still have not promised money for any stimulus projects, the reports show.

Chris Henderson, who supervises the Interior Department's $3 billion stimulus effort, says his agency will start hiring contractors within the next three months for projects such as national park repairs. "We're all committed to the objective of creating jobs as quickly as possible," he says.

The government wants most stimulus aid to be spent by September 2010. The Obama administration has emphasized the need to move quickly.

Yet it's even more important to use the money for projects that will help the economy over time, says Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va. "You can waste money very quickly," he says.

Obama last week praised transportation efforts for being "ahead of schedule and under budget." As USA TODAY has reported, most aid was promised for projects that wouldn't have started this year without the stimulus money.

Other agencies also say they are moving faster than expected. The Energy Department, in charge of an $11 billion effort to improve energy efficiency, is "well ahead" of schedule, says Matt Rogers, a senior adviser to Energy Secretary Steven Chu.

The U.S. jobless rate hit 8.5% last month. "The further down (the economy) goes, the more difficult it is to turn it around," Sawhill says.

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