Nov. 17, 2009 -- Leading members of Congress from both parties are promising increased scrutiny of the Obama administration's data on job creation, amid widespread errors in official stimulus data reported by the federal government.
A raft of reports of questionable or downright faulty jobs numbers -- including many uncovered by ABC News that show dozens of jobs created and millions of dollars spent in congressional districts that don't exist -- has cast a harsh spotlight on the jobs claims connected to the $787 billion stimulus package.
The Obama administration stands by its claim that the stimulus "saved or created" 1 million jobs. But the reporting process has involved errors: The administration chose not to include some 60,000 jobs reported by recipients as products of stimulus spending, citing "unrealistic data."
The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board says the errors are the result of mistaken information submitted to the federal government, and are not evidence of fraud or lax oversight.
But the questions swirling over the official job claims threaten to undercut the administration's credibility on a key priority -- at the very time that Democrats start to shape a new jobs bill, with the nation facing double-digit unemployment.
House Appropriations Chairman David Obey is calling the inaccuracies on Recovery.gov, the $18 million Web site that's tracking stimulus spending, "outrageous," and called on the Obama administration to immediately fix problems that have come to light.
"The administration owes itself, the Congress, and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes," said Obey, D-Wis. "Credibility counts in government and stupid mistakes like this undermine it. We've got too many serious problems in this country to let that happen."
Congress to Hold Hearing on Stimulus Spending
On Thursday, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing on stimulus spending and "recipient reporting." Panel members from both parties are promising tough questions for Earl Devaney, the recovery board's chairman.
Rep. Darrell Issa, the committee's ranking Republican, sent a letter to Devaney asking the administration to add "qualifying information" -- such as an asterisk or a footnote -- if it's not willing to certify as accurate the data that's publicly accessible at Recovery.gov.
"Are you able to certify personally that the number of jobs reported as 'created/saved' on www.recovery.gov is accurate and auditable?" Issa, R-Calif., asks Devaney.
A spokesman for the board, Ed Pound, said the mistakes stem from human error. Regarding the data purporting to create jobs in congressional districts that don't exist, he said, "Some recipients clearly don't know what congressional district they live in.
"We report what the recipients submit to us," Pound told ABC News. "We expected all along that recipients would make mistakes on their congressional districts, on jobs numbers, on award amounts, and so on. Human beings make mistakes."
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden promised unprecedented transparency around the stimulus spending. Key to those efforts was an $18 million contract awarded over the summer to redesign Recovery.gov, the main portal for distributing stimulus information.
Problems emerged almost as soon as data became available. An Associated Press review of the initial set of numbers, in October, found that the first count of some 30,000 jobs directly created by the stimulus was off by at least 5,000.
The administration responded to that report by promising that the full data would "provide the American people with an accurate, detailed look at the early success of the Recovery Act."
False Job Figures From Stimulus Stirs Anger
But the more complete data set is riddled with errors. Job creation is claimed in more than 400 congressional districts that simply do not exist, some of whose existence -- the 99th congressional district in the U.S. territory of the Northern Mariana Islands, for instance -- is preposterous.
Scattered reports of more significant data errors nationwide have forced the administration to, in some instances, scale back job creation estimates.
For example, Talladega County in Alabama claimed that 5,000 jobs had been saved or created from only $42,000 in stimulus funds. That figure was adjusted downward by the Office of Management and Budget, part of 60,000 jobs subtracted from official estimates.
"We are continuing to examine data for inconsistencies or errors, whether small or large," Rob Nabors, an OMB deputy director, told ABC. "Given the unprecedented nature of this reporting effort, these are cautious, responsible steps to ensure that the information provided to the American people is accurate and reliable."
ABC News' Jonathan Karl, Zach Wolf and Matthew Jaffe contributed to this report.