Stimulus Overhype?

By Caitlin Taylor

May 28, 2009 10:38am

The Obama administration on Wednesday issued a booklet heralding the accomplishments of the $787 billion stimulus act 100 days after it was signed into law.

Without question the book lists many projects that are having an impact of one way or another on the economy.

But the first one of the projects featured in "100 Days, 100 Projects"  doesn’t seem to withstand the scrutiny of its description.

The project is described by the Obama administration this way:

"Using $27 million of Recovery Act funding, a public housing development in Washington, D.C., the Regency House, has undergone a green retrofit. As part of this upgrade, the building installed solar panels, a ‘green’ roof, a rainwater collection system, energy-efficient lighting as well as water conserving toilets, showerheads, and faucets. The greening of this building will allow the Regency House to save money in energy costs, while lessening their impact on the environment."

In reality, the work done on the Regency House that was funded by the stimulus package amounted to $59,000 in parts and labor, according to Dena Michaelson, director of public affairs for the Washington DC Housing Authority.

The $27 million is the total amount given by the stimulus act to the Washington DC Housing Authority, the vast majority of which hasn’t been spent.

In addition, though the White House’s "100 Days, 100 Projects" entry for the Regency House work lists "solar panels, a ‘green’ roof, a rainwater collection system, energy-efficient lighting as well as water conserving toilets, showerheads, and faucets" as what was done as "part of the upgrade," the only parts funded by the stimulus were the solar panels, at a cost of $45,000, and the rainwater collection system, at a cost of $14,000.

The response of the White House to questions about the claim in the book evoked a critique of journalists.

Liz Oxhorn, Recovery Act Press Secretary, said in a statement that the Regency House work is "one of thousands of targeted investments we’re making nationwide to jumpstart new and ongoing energy efficiency renovations to public housing units and we only wish the same amount of time and energy that has gone into dissecting the structure of three sentences had gone into exploring the billions of dollars in new job-creating projects like this one now underway thanks to the Recovery Act.”

Michaelson said that installation of the solar panels necessitated 330 total man hours: 202 man hours for plumbers and helpers, 40 man hours for electricians, 50 man hours for welders, 30 man hours for superintendents, and eight man hours for a crane operator. Installationg of the rainwater harvesting system necessitated 80 man hours of work.

The booklet also mentions the "police academy graduates in Ohio" whose graduation ceremony President Obama attended in March, heralding how the stimulus enabled the city of Columbus to hire 25 cadets.

But this week Police Chief Walter Distelzweig told the Columbus Dispatch that unless residents approve a tax increase, those 25 cadets face the real possibility of layoffs.

- jpt

UPDATE: At today’s briefing, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs conceded that the entry about the DC Housing Authority project was not as accurate as it could have been.

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