Bar News - August 14, 2009
“Stimulus Czar” Leads New Hampshire’s Economic Recovery
By: Beverly Rorick
Orville Brewster Fitch II ("Bud") used to have only two jobs: now he has three. With the resignation of New Hampshire’s Attorney General Kelly Ayotte to pursue a US Senate seat, Fitch, already a deputy attorney general and the recently-appointed director of New Hampshire’s Office of Economic Stimulus (OES), also became the state’s acting attorney general.
Orville Brewster ("Bud") Fitch II, director of the Office of Economic Stimulus
Since January of this year when Gov. John Lynch tapped him to fill the newly-created position of director in the newly-created OES, Fitch has had the responsibility of organizing the state’s response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)—which, at the time of his appointment, had not yet been adopted. No one knew just what would be involved in the new position, and Fitch took on the job while still continuing his work as deputy attorney general; now he is also the acting attorney general.
If you have noticed (and who hasn’t?) the many road and bridge repairs going on throughout the state this summer, you have witnessed an example of the stimulus plan at work. New Hampshire’s Department of Transportation is among the leaders nationwide in getting ARRA dollars to work on highways and bridges, far exceeding the federal mandate that 50 percent of the ARRA funds allocated for that purpose be obligated by mid-June. "While we will not know the outcome of many of the major discretionary grant programs for some time, ARRA will bring at least one-half billion dollars and very possibly substantially more, to New Hampshire in the next two years," said Fitch.
Fitch, who grew up on his family’s 250-year-old farm in Cornish, NH, had a career in law enforcement for many years before becoming a lawyer. (See sidebar.) He knows what it’s like to work hard and make a life in small-town America and, being familiar with local government, he perhaps understands better than most the work of the OES.
A Career in Law Enforcement
While still in his early 20s, Fitch was elected constable of Cornish, a part-time position. Then, on his own, he decided to go to the police academy. Upon graduation, he became police chief in Plainfield—and later served with the Claremont police department. He also spent seven years as chief of police in Sunapee.
After several years in law enforcement, Fitch decided to go back to school to complete his education—and become a lawyer. He graduated summa cum laude as a political science major at the University of Minnesota and then went on to law school at the University. During this time, he also got a Master of Arts degree in public policy, preparing himself to become a public sector attorney.
Fitch got a sample of big law firm practice with his summer internship as a law clerk at one of the country’s largest law firms, Skadden-Arps, in Washington, D.C. While giving him valuable insight into aggressive high level corporate tax and litigation practice, it also had the effect of solidifying his lifetime commitment to public service. "While my starting salary at the Attorney General’s Office was less than my tax liability would have been at Skadden, the rewards of public service law far exceed anything they could offer," says Fitch.
After finishing his education in December of 2000, Fitch went to work for the NH Attorney General’s office, starting in January of 2001. He became a member of the New Hampshire Bar in May of that same year.
His law enforcement service included training in forensic photography, although at this point he considers it a hobby only. His interest in photography also makes him the "family photographer." Though single himself, Fitch has a large extended family, with two natural siblings and 16 (yes, 16!) foster sisters and brothers—and many nieces and nephews. Among his other pursuits is an interest in Celtic music.
What the Director DoesCharged with assisting the governor and state agencies with the management and expenditure of appropriations made under ARRA, Fitch, as director of the OES, must monitor funds as they become available to the state.
As part of the attorney general’s office, Fitch has worked in the Civil Bureau doing general client counseling, litigation, and election law enforcement. Upon being promoted to deputy attorney general in 2006, he became second in command in the office, overseeing its overall operations for Attorney General Kelly Ayotte.
After Fitch’s appointment to the OES and as his involvement increased, Ayotte and other members of the AG’s office gradually assumed some of his duties. However, since Ayotte’s resignation, the level of responsibility has shifted again, with Fitch becoming acting attorney general. Michael Delaney, formerly a deputy attorney general currently serving as the governor’s legal counsel, has been nominated to step into Ayotte’s shoes as attorney general. His confirmation should help to restore the balance of work in the AG’s office.
The "Stimulus Czar" at WorkFitch (called the state’s "stimulus czar") carries a heavy load. While for the present acting attorney general, he is also responsible as director of OES to construe federal law and identify the requirements of federal regulations, as delineated in ARRA. He must offer counsel and give guidance to the legal community—and others—regarding applying for funds and filling out the documents provided by the federal government.
Says Fitch of this work, "I rely heavily on the members of the Civil Bureau here in the AG’s office for assistance in understanding and communicating the requirements of the ARRA laws and regulations."
There are many entities throughout the state, individuals, organizations, agencies—even whole towns—that need the monies the Act will provide. Municipal law attorneys will have to counsel town and city officials regarding the preparation of application materials. In fact, anyone who applies for ARRA funds will have to become knowledgeable, since the federal government is very particular that every "i" be dotted and every "t" crossed. Otherwise, applicants may have their paper work kicked back to them, which means losing valuable time and money.
Governor Lynch has asked Fitch to see that the funds are managed in a manner that is "accountable, transparent and prudent."
As contracts are awarded using ARRA funds, they are posted in the Bids/Contracts section of the website, allowing those interested to easily access the public documents detailing the expenditure of their tax dollars. Also, Fitch and representatives of state agencies regularly present information on ARRA to community, municipal, and business groups.
- Accountability: new state accounting requirements have been established to ensure that each ARRA dollar managed by the state can be tracked and properly reported—and all entities that receive ARRA funds are required to establish accounting systems that separately track and report on those funds.
- Transparency: a NH Recovery website (http://www.nh.gov/recovery) has been established, providing unprecedented transparency for the implementation of the Act. Videos and PowerPoint presentations explain many of the ARRA opportunities and the OES staff maintains a one-page summary of each ARRA program expected to bring funds to New Hampshire. Most summaries provide on-line links and contact information.
As the time goes on, the NH Recovery website will start reporting the number of new jobs created and the number of jobs retained as a result of ARRA funds.
Recipients of such funds are encouraged to invest in one-time infrastructure/equipment or to enhance their human capital through training. They are encouraged to avoid uses such as hiring people for positions which do not have a solid funding source once the ARRA funds are exhausted. Governor Lynch has asked those with discretion over ARRA funds to make investments that will bring long-lasting value to the people of the state.
- Prudence: the OES is working with state agencies and others who receive ARRA funds to ensure their prudent use. These are one-time federal funds that in many cases double the amount of federal dollars available in the next two-to-three years for specific programs. At the same time, there is no expectation that this higher level of funding will continue.
All Are Encouraged to Seek Funds "OES attempts to coordinate state agencies, municipalities, and non-profits across the state in seeking as many funds from ARRA as is practical," said Fitch. "We assist state agencies and those who receive ARRA funds through the state with understanding and complying with the restrictions and requirements for the proper use of the funds." Finally, OES will also assist those who receive ARRA funds with the extra federal reporting requirements that accompany those funds.
The NH Recovery website includes web forms that allow the people of New Hampshire to submit proposals, recommendations, or to ask questions about ARRA. "We ask anyone who suspects waste, fraud, or misuse of ARRA funds to report their concerns to OES, using the special reporting form available at the NH Recovery site," said Fitch.
In addition, the office expects to have audit and labor law compliance staff to examine the recipients of ARRA funds to ensure proper accounting and use—and the office is also working closely with federal Inspector General offices in conducting federal audits and investigating reports of suspected waste, fraud, or abuse of ARRA funds.
Maximizing New Hampshire’s Share The OES seeks to maximize the number of ARRA dollars that flow into New Hampshire by working to identify discretionary grant opportunities that make sense for New Hampshire and ensuring that someone from New Hampshire is competing to obtain some of those funds. Said Fitch, "While some discretionary ARRA program opportunities have already closed, many are open today, and others will open up through the summer and into the fall. As more of the ARRA programs start to work in New Hampshire, we plan to provide additional information through the website on how those funds are being spent."
OES is currently operating with borrowed staff from the Attorney General’s Office, the Department of Health and Human Services, and with volunteers. The OES has one graduate student, David Henry, and two law school students doing internships in the office, assisting with the work.
The office also has a VISTA Volunteer, Matt Collins, who is working for one year, leading the OES effort to organize and establish the data collection and reporting system.
OES has just recently received legislative approval to employ staff to fulfill the internal audit and labor compliance necessitated by ARRA.
The Benefits of a Well-run State "I have been very impressed by the number of after hours and weekend e-mails and phone calls that are immediately returned by dedicated public servants who are making efforts above and beyond the call of duty to speed implementation of ARRA and New Hampshire’s economic recovery," says Fitch. "The good news is that New Hampshire continues to benefit from being a well-run state."