Above the Fold 04.17.09

Smart grids and Smart transport – All Aboard!…Sesame Street can only do so much for food safety…Paying to implement the stimulus…Anything you can do, we can do better…New Mexico needs new computer to get stimulus funds…Tax filers bum-rush Ill. and Ind. websites…

Modernizing the nation’s electrical system will be a daunting task, but the Recovery Act will through $3.3 billion at the task, the Los Angeles Times reported. Vice President Joe Biden unveiled the plan, saying, “We need an upgraded electrical grid to take full advantage of the vast renewable resources in this country — to take the wind from the Midwest and the sun from the Southwest and power areas across the country.” In a related story, Fast Company reports how Intel is positioning itself to become the “brains” of the smart grid. To see Intel’s Open Energy Initiative, click here.

President Barack Obama picked up the other side of the nation’s infrastructure by unveiling plans for high-speed passenger rail lines. The New York Times reports that at least ten regions of the country would have the new lines, expected to cost more than $8 billion dollars. “What we need, then, is a smart transportation system equal to the needs of the 21st century,” he said, “a system that reduces travel times and increases mobility, a system that reduces congestion and boosts productivity, a system that reduces destructive emissions and creates jobs.”

Food Safety prevention got a failing grade at the state and local level yesterday the Washington Post reports. Scarce resources, weak leadership from the feds and bureaucratic red tape hinder states and local communities from being able to prevent food illness outbreaks a new study by George Washington University. “We need one food safety system, not 50,” said Joseph Corby, executive director of the Association of Food and Drug Officials. “State and local agencies do 2.5 million inspections a year, analyze hundreds of thousands of food samples, and most of this work is not done in a coordinated fashion and not used by the federal agencies.”

Yesterday, the Associated Press reported that states are having a hard time coming up with the money to hire people to disburse and keep track of more money. Places like Nebraska need about 1.2 million over two years to oversee the more than 1.5 billion in stimulus funds, but so far, Washington hasn’t sent out any money for states to hire auditors and accountants. “I don’t really have a good solution of where to come up with the money,” the Nebraska governor’s chief of staff, Larry Bare, told state lawmakers.

A little Washington-based firm is doing what the government is months, if not years away from doing – and if you talk to the firm’s executives, the government might not ever get to where they are. Onvia, a Seattle-based company who helps contractors find government work, usually at the very lowest levels of government has been spending ten years compliling a complex system for gathering data to track “the procurement spending of more than 89,000 federal, state, local and educational entities,” Government Executive reports. They’ve put up Recovery.org to match the government’s Recovery.gov “But,” according to the Chief Solutions Officer Michael Balsam, The government has, “got no experience and no reach into local communities and states. There’s no basis for them to go figure out where everything is, because there is no reporting relationship in place. It’s an intractable problem for the administration.”

New Mexico is having a few technical problems with an “all-in-one” purchasing computer system called SHARE. Because of this, the New Mexico Independent reports, the federal government is suspending about 40 percent of the state’s transportation budget – an estimated $400 million. In addition, any stimulus funds slated for the state are now in question. To add insult to injury, the state’s DMV is looking to replace a thirty-year-old system that isn’t meeting the modern needs of the state, the Associated Press is reporting.

Computer problems in Illinois and Indiana have led the two states to extend their respective tax filing deadlines the Chicago Tribune and Indianapolis Star report. Indiana’s I-File online service crashed yesterday so about 7,000 Hoosiers will have until Sunday to get their taxes in to the state. The Star story found that fingers are pointing towards Indian Interactive, the Department of Revenue’s service provider. In Chicago, much of the same occurred. About 50,000 people filed their taxes online Tuesday and Wednesday and the last-minute rush caused some taxpayers to receive an error message with they tried to access the state’s online system.

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