Watchdog work to track federal spending in WA

Washington has received billions in federal recovery money. Our new investigative reporter is determined to figure out where it's landing.

Block writes in a notebook as he conducts an interview

Crosscut reporter Brandon Block during an interview on Friday, March 11, 2022 in Port Townsend, Wash.. Jefferson County will provide fiber optic broadband Internet to residents. (Stephen Brashear for Crosscut)

As I think about all the challenges we humans are up against, my head starts to hurt and I have to lie down. 

When I first started as a freelance reporter in Baltimore, my headaches led me to seek out stories about local injustices, like the air pollution caused by a trash incinerator or the exclusion of non-native English speakers from the city’s top public schools.

Seeing the needle start to shift on those issues gave me hope that we as individuals can make a difference. It’s one of the aspects I love most about local journalism, the ability to be a force for positive change in small but effective ways.

I carried that spirit with me to Washington in 2020, when I began a Report for America fellowship at The Olympian, where I was tasked with covering housing and homelessness — one of the West Coast’s most pressing, and at times maddening, issues.

Despite my occasional despair, I can’t seem to stay away. And as the new investigative reporter for WA Recovery Watch, Crosscut’s new project on federal recovery spending, I’m eager to delve deeper into how decisions made by local governments affect communities. 

How Washington chooses to use this unprecedented influx of money will shape the state for decades to come. Some of that story is buried in the complex, sometimes inscrutable details of budgets and other bureaucratic minutiae. With WA Recovery Watch, we’re hoping to pull back the curtain on the vague and incomplete narratives surrounding federal relief programs, dig into the details and tell you what’s actually happening.

In my first two Crosscut stories, I explored how local governments are taking divergent approaches to filling the need for reliable high-speed internet in rural areas. I traveled up the Olympic Peninsula to Jefferson County, where the public utility district plans to be the first such district in the state to build a public broadband network. Meanwhile on the coast, I revealed how counties like Grays Harbor lost out on federal money to connect unserved rural residents based on dubious objections from companies like Comcast.

Broadband is just the beginning. We plan to investigate a range of different areas where federal dollars are being invested, from housing and transportation to public safety, climate change mitigation and more. 

That’s where readers like you can help us. What would you like to know about spending priorities in your community? Do you see important needs that are going unmet? Resources lavished on projects of questionable importance? 

Help us zero in on the places and issues you care about by emailing me at brandon.block@crosscut.com, contacting the WA Recovery Watch team, or sharing your questions below.

About the Authors & Contributors

photo of Brandon

Brandon Block

Brandon Block is Crosscut’s investigative reporter, focused on following the federal recovery money flowing into Washington state.