Chief communication officers have a new challenge. They have to understand, explain and engage with the federal handouts.

No company is above or immune from effects of the political process now bubbling as the stimulus funds flow. In every state, company stakeholders—employees, investors, customers, suppliers, neighbors—will be impacted by political decisions agitated by many interests.

Governors are forming committees—or “czars”—to divvy up the billions in funding. Activist and community groups are early in the game. In Virginia, an aggressive grassroots approach to get input from residents, local government and community groups involves a special website. Ohio’s Democratic governor and the state’s Republican Senate are said to have battling blueprints on how to use the federal payout. This is not a game that the company can sit out, whether or not it’s a direct beneficiary.

CCOs need to know — and in fact work with company government relations people to let the C-suite and employees know — how the company is impacted in the states where it does business, and how the corporate voice is being expressed in the interest of stakeholders.

Who represents the company as the states and cities decide how to use the federal economic stimulus? Who speaks for the company? How does the company engage with its stakeholders and show them that the company is aware, is thinking strategically and is part of the action in the stakeholders’ interest?

Based on experience and conversations with folks in business, I’m convinced that overall corporate sustainability requires an ongoing, active alignment of financial, social and political accountabilities in the C-suite, with communication as the strategic stimulus. The federal recovery action, and the communications dynamics associated with it, put the constantly elevating role of the chief communication officer to a critical test.