Recovery.gov Shows Taxpayer Money Going to Congressional Districts That Don’t Exist

November 17, 2009 - 7:55 PM
The 86th congressional district of Rhode Island received $10.2 million in federal economic stimulus funds to save 57.9 jobs, according to Recovery.gov.

President Barack Obama (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The 86th congressional district of Rhode Island received $10.2 million in federal economic stimulus funds to save 57.9 jobs, according to Recovery.gov. In neighboring Connecticut, the state’s 42nd congressional district did not receive any stimulus money yet 25 jobs were still saved or created.
 
The problem with these federal financial data, however, is that Rhode Island has just two congressional districts, not 86, and Connecticut has just five U.S. House seats, not 42. Also, the Web site states that $6.4 billion in stimulus money went to 440 congressional districts that do not exist, according to an analysis first reported by Watchdog.org, a division of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.
 
The watchdog’s analysis showed that the money invested in the non-existent congressional districts saved or created 30,000 jobs, based on the government data currently available to the public. 
 
Recovery.gov is the Obama administration’s Web site designed to track the funds dispersed through the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
 
Concerning the non-existent congressional districts and other data on Recovery.org, the Obama administration responded on Tuesday that it was a matter of kinks in the system and that all stimulus funds are traceable and documented.
 
“These are not non-existent congressional districts, these are improperly identified congressional districts,” Ed Pound, spokesman for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told CNSNews.com Tuesday. “It’s human error. People filling out these forms might not know their district.”
 
Nonetheless, Recovery.gov shows that some of the smallest states have apparently grown immensely in terms of population.
 
While New Mexico has three representatives in the U.S. House, Recovery.gov shows money going to 13 different congressional districts, including, for example,  the “00 congressional district,” which got $731,370, and a “40th congressional district,” which got $7.9 million.
 
Furthermore, if you click on the “certification” of the federal funds going to New Mexico, a letter from Gov. Benigno R. Fitial of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands comes up.
 
Then there is the $2.1 million that went to save or create 30 jobs in the “99th congressional district” of North Dakota, one of the country’s most sparsely populated states with just one at-large U.S. House seat. Nevertheless, North Dakota had a total of 14 congressional districts, according to Recovery.gov. 
 
This information is found by going to Recovery.gov and clicking on State/Territory. Once the next page comes up, find the state or territory you want to review. Then scroll down to congressional district, and click on “View All Congressional Districts.”
 
The government-run Web site, Recovery.gov, established to track money from the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that passed in February, has been scrutinized for problems in tracking jobs that were supposedly saved or created.
 
A provision of the stimulus bill established the Web site as an attempt to ensure transparency and accountability.
 
During his first primetime news conference on Feb. 9, days before signing the recovery bill, Obama said, “It also contains an unprecedented level of transparency and accountability, so that every American will be able to go online and see where and how we're spending every dime.”
 
The Web site’s numerous errors were first exposed by Jim Scarantino, a reporter for Watchdog.org in Albuquerque, N.M., who was checking out the purported number of jobs saved or created in his home state.
 
“We’re a tiny state, so we only have enough room for three congressmen, so right away I knew I had something,” Scarantino told CNSNews.com on Tuesday. “I notified all my Watchdog counterparts around the country to the story. They did the same thing in their states and it took off.”
 
The White House responded, in a blog posting by G. Edward DeSeve, special adviser to the president, who said the mistakes are a matter of “typos and coding errors that don’t undermine the information at the heart of the data.”
 
“Yes, it is ‘silly’ that Recovery.gov shows that a project went to the 15th Congressional District in Arizona when there is no such district,” DeSeve wrote. “But a ‘click’ on the project details gives you the address and a check on the address shows it is Arizona’s 3rd District. All this shows is that when people sent 130,000 reports, some will have silly mistakes. But it doesn’t really undermine the ability of the public to track and follow the data – or the fact that real jobs have been created.”
 
But the federal government is responsible for presenting accurate information to the public, even if grant recipients who filed information got it wrong, Scarantino said, adding that he believes this indicates a much larger problem.
 
“There is no way to know from where we sit, as citizens, whether that money evaporated, whether it doesn’t exist, whether it fell through the cracks or whether it’s a data entry error,” Scarantino said. 

Rep. Pete Hoekstra (R-Mich.) said in a Nov. 17 statement: "Even Democrats are outraged that the administration continues to rpesent false numbers to the American people. The president and vice rpesident continue to stress that they are creating jobs and now we know why, because they are working with inaccurate information."
 
The state of Kentucky, with just six congressional districts in reality, apparently received $15,000 for its “90th congressional district” and $274,000 for its “30th congressional district.” On the upside, most of the jobs created or saved were in congressional districts that actually exist. 
 
Also, $1.19 million went to save or create six jobs in the “99th congressional district” of Alaska, which is listed as having a total of 15 congressional districts, which is not true. Though geographically large, the scarcely populated state has just one at-large congressional district.
 
Iowa’s non-existent “24th congressional district” got two jobs for $113,000 in stimulus funds. Maine’s non-existent 92nd district got zero jobs from its $28,000. For its part, South Dakota’s non-existent 46th congressional district got just two jobs for the $603,000 it received in stimulus money. Utah’s non-existent 68th district got no jobs for the $29,180 it received in stimulus money. Vermont’s pseudo-5th district got 2.5 jobs for the $1.9 million federal investment.
 
That is according to Recovery.gov. In reality, Iowa actually has five House seats, Maine two, South Dakota one, Utah three and Vermont one.
 
Vice President Joe Biden acknowledged there were accountability problems when he spoke about the reporting of funds last month.
 
“We know that it’s not 100 percent accurate -- this has never been attempted before -- and that further updates and corrections are going to be needed,” Biden said. “But we’re pleased to make this information available.”
 
House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D-Wisc.) called the inaccuracies on the Web site “outrageous.”
 
“Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it,” he said in a statement. “We’ve got too many serious problems in this country to let that happen.We designed the Recovery Act to be open and transparent and I expect the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, who oversees the Recovery Act Web site and data to have information that is accurate, reliable and understandable to the American public. Whether the numbers are good news or bad news, I want the honest numbers and I want them now.”
 
The information on the site should have a warning sign next to it, said Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, in a letter to the Recovery Act Transparency and Accountability Board.
 
“Are you able to certify personally that the number of jobs reported as ‘created/saved’ on www.recovery.gov is accurate and auditable?” the Issa letter asks. “If you are unable to do so, will you commit to incorporating some kind of qualifying information such as an asterisk or footnote to accompany the presentation of this information, warning visitors to the Web site that the information is not accurate and auditable?"

Said Congressman Hoekstra in his statement:  "People only need to talk to their neighbors and read the monthly unemployment data to know that the ‘economic stimulus’ plan isn’t stimulating any type of job creation.  The administration and those in Congress who supported the original $787 billion bill need to understand job creation does not flow through Washington, especially as they consider a second economic stimulus bill."