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Jobs Reports ‘Riddled With Inaccuracies’

WASHINGTON - The reports on jobs created or saved by the $787 billion stimulus package are "riddled with inaccuracies and contradictions," the federal watchdog overseeing the spending acknowledged Thursday.

Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told a House oversight committee that the board is taking steps to correct the errors and prevent mistakes in future reports, which are filed by the recipients of stimulus money and posted on the board's website.

The board is working on creating software with "internal logic checks" to automatically reject reports that are clearly wrong, Devaney said.

In late October, the administration reported that the first recipients of stimulus grants, contracts or loans created or saved more than 640,000 jobs. Recipients of tax breaks and aid such as unemployment insurance are not required to report, so the job numbers cover only about $47 billion of the $173 billion spent by Sept. 30.

USA TODAY was among those that found examples of errors in that data, such as a Texas housing authority mistakenly reporting 450 jobs created by a $26,000 roofing project that actually employed six people.

The acting head of the Government Accountability Office (GAO), Gene Dodaro, told the committee his investigators found 3,978 reports where recipients reported creating a total of 58,386 jobs without spending any money. Another 9,247 reports covering $965 million in spending listed no jobs created or saved, Dodaro said.

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., head of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said such errors should be fixed. "We must be able to rely on the reported data," he said.

Republicans said the glitches showed that the White House was wrong to tout the job figures. The panel's top Republican, Darrell Issa of California, called the jobs number "propaganda . . . designed to serve a political agenda." Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., said, "I feel like I'm listening to a baloney factory."

Devaney said he also was concerned about the "considerable number" of stimulus recipients who didn't file the required reports, suggesting that Congress consider penalizing them. He said the board was collecting the names of the non-filers and would post them on its website. The White House Office of Management and Budget estimates that the 130,000 reports represented more than 90% of the recipients required to file.

One of the biggest problems was confusion among recipients on how to calculate the number of jobs saved or created, said Dodaro, whose office is the investigative arm of Congress. Recipients are supposed to translate the number of hours worked into the equivalent of full-time jobs, but many were confused about how to do that, Dodaro said.

The administration plans to offer "streamlined guidance" to recipients before the next reporting deadline in January to clarify how they should calculate and report their jobs numbers, Danny Werfel of the White House budget office wrote to Dodaro in response to the GAO findings.

Devaney said the errors will help officials avoid such mistakes in the future. "The principal downside of transparency is embarrassment, and there's plenty of that to go around," he said.

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