WaPo Buries Faulty GAO Data Story on Page A22; No Mention of Fake Congressional Districts

In what could easily be labeled the understatement of the week and probably of the entire month of November, the Washington Post today headlined a page A22 story today "GAO warns stimulus jobs data could contain inaccuracies."

The print story is accompanied by a screenshot of Recovery.gov, which the caption beneath it notes "is the government's stimulus-tracking Web site."

Of course, the biggest inaccuracies recently observed on Recovery.gov are non-existent congressional districts purported to have been "saved or created" jobs thanks to stimulus pork sent their way. Yet Post staffer Ed O'Keefe was careful to keep that juiciest tidbit out of his entire 10-paragraph November 19 story.

As Michelle Groat of Examiner.com noted Wednesday:

President Obama is claiming success through his $787 billion stimulus package by way of the administration’s website recovery.gov. Visitors to the website will find that hundreds of jobs have been created or saved all across the country. Here are some of the statistics reported by recovery.gov:

• $34 million in stimulus money has been spent in Arizona's 86th congressional district in a project for the Navajo Housing authority, which is actually located in the 1st congressional district.
• In Oklahoma, recovery.gov lists more than $19 million in spending -- and 15 jobs created.
• In Iowa, it shows $10.6 million spent – and 39 jobs created.
• In Connecticut's 42nd district, the Web site claims 25 jobs created with zero stimulus dollars.

The problem is these districts do not exist.

The list of spending and job creation in fictional congressional districts goes beyond just the 50 states. Stimulus money and job creation and saving extend to U.S. territories as well. Here is what territories outside the U.S, have received from tax payers:

• $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.

By contrast, O'Keefe not once mentioned the fake congressional district controversy in his story, although he noted that "[r]oughly 10 percent of the recipients of stimulus dollars failed to submit quarterly reports last month."

So the real data is incomplete and that's worth a story, but phony congressional districts receiving pork barrel spending is not?

Given that the story was already buried by Post editors below-the-fold on page A22, it's safe to say the Post is not too eager to hype the controversy. The full Post article is excerpted below:

Government auditors raised doubts Thursday about the number of jobs created or saved by the economic stimulus program, but they also said that mistakes reported in recent weeks signal the benefits of government transparency.

Roughly 10 percent of the recipients of stimulus dollars failed to submit quarterly reports last month, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday.

"I think missing reports may drive the job numbers up, and I think there are enough inaccuracies in here to drive the numbers down," said Earl E. Devaney, who oversees Recovery.gov, the government's stimulus-tracking Web site. The Obama administration reported last month that the stimulus has created or saved about 640,000 jobs thus far.

Some recipients' failure to report spending data last month "is distressing and must be addressed," Devaney said, adding that Congress should penalize recipients who fail to report.

The doubts expressed by Devaney and acting GAO Comptroller General Gene L. Dodaro at Thursday's House oversight committee hearing lend nonpartisan credence to general concerns about stimulus data. Devaney, who assumed his position in the spring, has repeatedly cautioned government officials at all levels that early data would probably contain errors. But some of those mistakes aren't necessarily a bad thing, he said.

"In reality, this data should serve in the long run as evidence of what transparency can achieve," he said. "In the past, this data would have been scrubbed from top to bottom before its release. The agencies would never have released the information until it was near-perfect."

Republicans attacked the jobs figures, referring to the data as "propaganda" and "garbage," and called the entire stimulus reporting process "disgusting."

"The administration continues to misread the economy, misunderstand the nature of economic growth, mislead the American people with faulty jobs claims and miss the steps this country needs to take to get our economy back on track," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).

The Obama administration has struggled to clearly define stimulus job creation because -- as Devaney and Dodaro noted -- it is difficult to know what role the funding played.

"This has never been done before," White House stimulus adviser Ed DeSeve said after the hearing. "You can't name another government program that has done this."

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.