Shovel Ready?

| Tue Sep. 21, 2010 12:02 AM EDT

The Wall Street Journal reports that spending stimulus dollars is harder than it sounds. The director of the Detroit agency managing weatherization projects, for example, was ready to go before the legislation even passed:

But on the same day in March 2009 that Shenetta Coleman picked up applications from 46 companies, she received an email from the Michigan Department of Human Services telling her she couldn't award work to anyone.

The problem: Ms. Coleman hadn't met requirements for her advertisement. Those included specifying the precise wages that contractors would have to pay, and posting the advertisement on a specific website. There were other rules—federal, state and local—for grant and contract-award processes, historic preservation and labor standards. The bureaucratic obstacles Ms. Coleman hit took more than a year to clear. Some were mandated by the stimulus bill, the same legislation that was supposed to rapidly create jobs.

....Things are very different from the 1930s, when Franklin Delano Roosevelt was able to create the Civil Works Administration in a lunchtime meeting and watch four million people go to work in the next four months on roads, schools, parks and airports.

For better or worse, doing stuff just takes longer today than it used to. The whole concept of "shovel ready" really doesn't seem to exist except for projects that are so far advanced they probably have funding already.