Stimulus package contains items not related to economy

Earlier this month, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) of 2009, better known as the stimulus package, was released to the public, passed by the House and the Senate, and signed into law by President Obama.

But what are the details of this nearly $790 billion plan? About 34 percent is direct tax cuts. The rest is nearly all spending, from defense to the environment, from government technology to housing. And, according to the Congressional Budget Office, about 74 percent of that $500 billion of spending will be spent in the next year-and-a-half.

But what do we care about most? $92 billion has been allocated for education, from child-care centers up to universities. $40 billion has been put toward energy, much of which is targeted at renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternative energy research. Scientific research has been given $17 billion, much of which is additional research funding for award granting agencies such like the National Institute of Health (NIH) and National Science Foundation (NSF).

However, many of the details of the bill are in the specifics presented in the 1071-page document, and not all of them are exactly economically driven. For example, the details surrounding the funding to the Health Information Technology section include security breach notifications involving health information, and additional reporting requirements that broaden the Health Insurance Portability & Protection Act (HIPPA).

One worrisome statement that thankfully never made it into the final version of the bill was proposed language by Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would “allow for reasonable network management practices such as deterring unlawful activity, including child pornography and copyright infringement.” This statement would have served as a starter for larger and broader anti-net neutrality behavior, and we are relieved to see that it was not included.

Another detail that did not make it into the bill, but was released later in the Executive Office’s “Recovery Act Implementation Guide,” was that each agency is “required to provide a feed (preferred: Atom 1.0, acceptable: RSS)” of the allocation it is completing, along with a weekly report. In non-techie speak, this means that every time each agency gives out money, it would post, in a manner similar to a blog entry, how much money was given out from the agency and to whom, and this post would then be able to be imported into sites like Facebook, in the form of a Facebook note.

We appreciate this (clearly forced) expansion of the Obama administration’s use of technology to help make the spending of the recovery bill more transparent. This attempt at transparency relating to finances will be incredibly important as the spending, in what is the largest government spending push since World War II, occurs in an attempt to restart our nation’s economic growth.