Recovery Official: Reporting Errors ‘Not Unequivocally Bad’

By Gorman Gorman

Nov 19, 2009 12:34pm

ABC News' Elizabeth Gorman reports:

After conceding the fact that the $18 million government Web site tracking stimulus funds doesn't accurately track U.S. jobs data, the chairman of the Obama administration's Recovery Board told Congress today that he wasn't surprised by the mistakes found on the Web site listing non-existent congressional districts.

He said the experience should serve as a lesson that will help enhance transparency.

"In a way they are not unequivocally bad. In reality this data should serve in the long run as evidence of what transparency can achieve. In the past, this data would have been scrubbed from top to bottom before it's released, and the agencies would never have released the information until it was near perfect," Earl Devaney, the chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, said in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

He said that the inaccuracies on Recovery.gov were caused in part by recipients of stimulus money who put decimal places in wrong places — sometimes confusing a $10 million contract for a $10 billion contract. He said recipients also used the wrong data entry fields to report how many jobs were created or saved, instead entering the dollar amount they were awarded.

"Even more notorious were significant errors relating to congressional districts," he said.

Recipients names who chose not to comply with reporting standards will be placed permanently on Recovery.gov, according to Devaney.

"What we're all seeing at least at this first report period is not particularly pretty. This raw form, unsanitized data may cause embarrassment for some agencies and recipients, but my expectation is that any embarrassment suffered will encourage self-correcting behavior and lead to better reporting in the future," Devaney said.

Devaney suggested amending the Recovery Act to include penalties on persons who don't comply with government reporting standards.

"Even if criminal penalties aren't practical, the fact that some would willfully not file is distressing and must be addressed," Devaney said.

"Agencies at a minimum will need to decide what actions they're willing to take to ensure that transparency and accountability aims of the Recovery Act aren't disregarded," he said.

Devaney recommended agencies refuse additional funding or demand unused stimulus funds be returned for noncompliance.

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