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1 million stimulus jobs? House panel investigates

The economic stimulus package draws new scrutiny. Are its numbers 'propaganda' or coding errors?

November 20, 2009|By Richard Simon
  • From left, former Rep. Dick Armey and Reps. Darrell Issa and Edolphus Towns meet before a House hearing on the stimulus package.
From left, former Rep. Dick Armey and Reps. Darrell Issa and Edolphus Towns… (Alex Wong / Getty Images )

Reporting from Washington — Hundreds of new jobs in phantom congressional districts. Nearly 500 new teaching slots in a Chicago school district that employs only 290.

As the White House tries to show that its massive stimulus package has created or saved 1 million jobs, media outlets and critics have contended that some of the administration's numbers are faulty.

On Thursday, a congressional committee tried to sort out the questions: Are the flawed data the result of Democratic spin meant to show that President Obama's economic policies are working? Or are they mere errors in data entry?

"Propaganda," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Vista). He accused the administration of misleading the public "to say we're doing a great job when, in fact, we don't know."

"The economic recovery plan is working," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) responded during a hearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

The scrutiny of the administration's jobs claims comes as Democrats are anxious to show, before next year's midterm election, that they are working to bring down unemployment. Republicans are eager to portray the $787-billion stimulus, which passed Congress with only three GOP votes, as a costly failure, evidenced by the rising unemployment rate.

Government watchdogs said the stimulus was creating or saving jobs, even if the precise number was unclear because of fund recipients' reporting errors or because they hadn't provided the jobs information.

"I have no doubt that there's a lot of jobs being created," said Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which oversees stimulus spending.

The administration said last month that stimulus spending was directly responsible for creating or saving 640,329 jobs. The number rose to 1 million jobs, the administration said, when indirect effects were considered, such as a newly hired worker spending money at a clothing store.

But the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress, raised questions about the accuracy of the numbers. Citing information filed by designated recipients of stimulus money, it said there had been "3,978 reports that showed no dollar amount received or expended but included more than 50,000 jobs created or retained."

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) was among those wondering how a nonexistent congressional district in his state could be reported as receiving stimulus funds.

"There was some $1.2 million that went to the 4th Congressional District of Utah," he said. "We only have three congressional districts."

In a White House blog item posted even as the committee was meeting, Liz Oxhorn, communications director for the stimulus effort, said the jobs listed in nonexistent congressional districts were real -- they were just coded incorrectly.

Overall, she wrote, potential over- or under-counts of jobs were found in less than 5% of the 130,000 reports filed by recipients of stimulus money.

richard.simon@latimes.com

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