Stimulus Funds Go to Phantom Districts and Fictitious Jobs

Published November 18, 2009

As news reporters and private citizens peruse records that supposedly track the federal government’s economic stimulus spending, they are finding huge exaggerations, errors, and apparent falsehoods, including jobs “saved or created” in hundreds of congressional districts that do not exist.

In November, reported the Obama administration claims economic stimulus money has “saved or created” jobs in at least 440 phantom congressional districts. They based their report on the federal government’s Web site, which posts details on economic stimulus spending.’s independent reporters cover state-specific and local government activities.

The response from Capitol Hill was swift. House Appropriations Committee Chairman David R. Obey (D-WI) released a statement highly critical of the flawed data: “The inaccuracies … are outrageous, and the administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes. We designed the Recovery Act to be open and transparent. … Whether the numbers are good news or bad news, I want the honest numbers and I want them now.”

Similar Stories Everywhere is not the only organization to point out exaggerated and error-ridden claims reported by the federal government. Local news organizations around the country have reported similar problems in their locales.

For instance, the Obama administration claimed $1.25 billion of economic stimulus money had saved 14,300 jobs in Illinois school districts, but the Chicago Tribune reported the claim cannot possibly be correct.

Reporters Bob Secter and Erika Slife noted, “More than $4.7 million in federal stimulus aid so far has been funneled to schools in North Chicago, and state and federal officials say that money has saved the jobs of 473 teachers. Problem is, the district employs only 290 teachers.”

In Wilmette Public Schools District 39, a few miles north of Chicago, government officials said 166 jobs were saved by stimulus aid. Superintendent Raymond Lechner told reporters the number should be zero.

“At Dolton-Riverdale School District 148, stimulus funds were said to have saved the equivalent of 382 full-time teaching jobs — 142 more than the district actually has,” Secter and Slife reported.

‘Throwing in Any Number’

Responding to the backlash against the dubious data posted on his Web site, Communications Director Ed Pound told ABC News: “We report what the recipients submit to us. 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 job numbers, on award amounts, and so on. Human beings make mistakes.”

Financial analysts at The Heritage Foundation disagree. They argue the real error is more fundamental, in how the data are determined. If a highly trained professional economist can’t agree on how to tell when a job has been “saved or created,” they ask, how can an average business owner be expected to create accurate data? The result is inaccurate data that mislead the public and create a false impression of how effective the stimulus actually has been, says Heritage.

Matt Glans ([email protected]) is legislative specialist in insurance and finance for The Heartland Institute.