U.S. News

Errors and inaccuracies in stimulus report: GAO

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The data collection and reporting from those who received money from the $787 billion U.S. stimulus plan is riddled with errors and inaccuracies, according to a federal audit of the report released on Thursday.

Since the report on where stimulus funding went and how many jobs it created or saved was posted at on October 30, news organizations have uncovered faulty data entry and misunderstandings that have raised suspicion about the quality of the numbers.

The Government Accountability Office had warned there would likely be mistakes in the mammoth undertaking. Its audit found that, despite training from federal agencies, many recipients were confused about how to count jobs.

“Implausible amounts” of money were reported, or there were discrepancies between amounts awarded and received, the audit found.

There were 3,978 reports that “showed no dollar amount received or expended but included more than 50,000 jobs created or retained,” said the GAO.

It also found more than 9,000 reports that showed no jobs but said more than $1 billion had been spent. The GAO said that 10 percent of those who received money had not filed reports.

Those who receive grants and loans through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for projects such as highway repair are required to make quarterly reports on how the money has been spent. As of September 30, $173 billion of the $787 billion in the plan had been paid out, but only $47 billion was subject to the reporting requirement, GAO said.

The first report found that the plan has saved or created 640,329 jobs since February. Almost immediately, however, states, contractors and newspapers found errors in the numbers.

According to the Chicago Tribune, for example, Illinois reported the North Chicago School District saved the jobs of 473 teachers with stimulus money, even though it employs only 290 teachers.

Ed DeSeve, the former Philadelphia finance director advising the White House on the plan’s accountability, has said there would be revisions as recipients and the federal government catch errors.

The U.S. government cannot change or edit the data recipients provide. The website continues to show the 640,329 jobs number nearly a month later.

Danny Werfel, controller of the Office of Federal Financial Management within the White House’s budget office, said the White House is working on improving instructions to recipients for the January report.

Meantime, it will refine its guidance on job counting. Many have been confused by the phrase “created or saved” after President Barack Obama pledged the plan would create or save 3 million jobs.

The legislation counts the number of job hours funded with stimulus dollars, and does not take into account whether those jobs were new or about to be cut.

Representative John Mica, the highest ranking Republican on the House Transportation committee, which is following the jobs effects for a large share of the stimulus money said the GAO report “confirmed that the administration’s employment data is based on a system of garbage in, garbage out.”

“To the dismay of taxpayers, the costly reporting system is being fed inaccurate information and various agencies cannot even agree on what qualifies as a full time government job,” he said.

Additional reporting by Karen Pierog