Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Federal stimulus jobs reporting fiasco

Jeremy Redmon at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution calls attention to widespread erroneous reporting of jobs created in Georgia by the federal stimulus.
For example, several organizations that offer Head Start preschool programs and other services in Georgia reported retaining hundreds of jobs based on raises they gave their employees.

In one such case, the Central Savannah River Area Economic Opportunity Authority in Augusta reported saving 317 jobs. But that represents the number of Head Start workers who received 2.3 percent raises from the stimulus funds, said Chris Whitley, the authority’s fiscal officer. Whitley said the formula federal officials told him to use for calculating jobs is “convoluted.”

“I called Washington. And I talked to a young man up there and he seemed as confused as I was,” Whitley said, “but he was at the help desk. ... He said, ‘I would put the number of people who got the raise.’ And that is what I did.”

Like Whitley, many public agencies and private businesses say they are confused by the federal guidelines for calculating jobs that have been created or retained using stimulus money. Some who overstated jobs created their own formulas or listed jobs they expect to create but haven’t yet. Others said they simply got it wrong.

At issue is the federal government’s reporting of jobs created or preserved by the Obama administration’s $787 billion stimulus program, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The stimulus Web site, recovery.gov, says 24,681 jobs have been created or saved so far in Georgia, and 640,329 nationwide.

But an AJC examination of records posted on the Web site calls into question the accuracy of the numbers. The AJC found:

An Augusta agency reported creating 68 jobs even though the work has not started yet.

A private contractor counted the same 10 jobs six times, erroneously reporting 60.

A Head Start organization in LaGrange reported 77 jobs based on raises it gave its employees with the money.
Here's one of my favorites:
The single largest misstatement of jobs created that has come to light so far in Georgia was reported by the Associated Press on Nov. 4. That report exposed how a Head Start organization in Moultrie reported stimulus spending had saved 935 of its jobs, though only 508 people work there. The Southwest Georgia Community Action Council issued a statement on its Web site this month, blaming the error on the omission of a decimal point. The number of jobs reported should have been 9.35, not 935, the statement says.
It is regrettable that so many stimulus recipients got the numbers so wrong, but at least those recipients actually exist.  From Kyle Wingfield at the AJC:
Now comes a report from ABC News that the figures also break down jobs data into congressional districts that don’t even exist — in Arizona alone, there are 14 non-existent districts cited. In Georgia, more than $6.2 million in stimulus spending is identified in the fictitious 14th, 19th, 21st, 25th, 27th, 86th and 00th. (Is zero-eth a word? Zero-est? New contest: Name the ordinal number for zero! Or, better yet, double-zero! Yes, we can!)
Yes.  ABC News reports that the government web site set up to track the stimulus money details jobs created in congressional districts that do not exist.
Here's a stimulus success story: In Arizona's 15th congressional district, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that's what the Web site set up by the Obama administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says.

There's one problem, though: There is no 15th congressional district in Arizona; the state has only eight districts.

And ABC News has found many more entries for projects like this in places that are incorrectly identified.

Late Monday, officials with the Recovery Board created to track the stimulus spending, said the mistakes in crediting nonexistent congressional districts were caused by human error.

"We report what the recipients submit to us," said Ed Pound, Communications Director for the Board.

Pound told ABC News the board receives declarations from the recipients - state governments, federal agencies and universities - of stimulus money about what program is being funded.

"Some recipients clearly don't know what congressional district they live in, so they appear to be just throwing in any number. We expected all along that recipients would make mistakes on their congressional districts, on jobs numbers, on award amounts, and so on. Human beings make mistakes," Pound said.

The issue has raised hackles on Capitol Hill.

Rep. David Obey, D-Wisc, who chairs the powerful House appropriations Committee, issued a paper statement demanding that the recovery.gov Web site be updated.

"The inaccuracies on recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous and the Administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes."
The list goes on.
The reporting problems are not limited to Arizona, ABC News found.

In Oklahoma, recovery.gov lists more than $19 million in spending -- and 15 jobs created -- in yet more congressional districts that don't exist.

In Iowa, it shows $10.6 million spent – and 39 jobs created -- in nonexistent districts.

In Connecticut's 42nd district (which also does not exist), the Web site claims 25 jobs created with zero stimulus dollars.

The list of spending and job creation in fictional congressional districts extends to U.S. territories as well.

$68.3 million spent and 72.2 million spent in the 1st congressional district of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

$8.4 million spent and 40.3 jobs created in the 99th congressional district of the U.S. Virgin Islands.

$1.5 million spent and .3 jobs created in the 69th district and $35 million for 142 jobs in the 99th district of the Northern Mariana Islands.

$47.7 million spent and 291 jobs created in Puerto Rico's 99th congressional district.
The recovery.gov Web site was established as part of the stimulus bill "to foster greater accountability and transparency" in the use of the money spent through the stimulus program. The site is a well-funded enterprise; the General Services Administration updated it earlier this year with an $18 million grant.
Mr. Pound, we know humans make mistakes.  Our President, after all, told us he had visited 57 states.  But if I spent $18 million updating a web site, I would at the very least, expect that non-existent congressional districts could not be entered into a data field without being flagged as an error. But in the current administration's tradition, it's always easier to blame someone else.

Kyle Wingfield tries to reassure us:
Don’t worry, the Census is in the very best of hands.

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