'Cotton candy' claims on job numbers leave bad taste for White House

The White House is defending the scattershot oversight that has made its stimulus-related job creation claims a dubious and moving target.

“Transparency is going to be messy, but it's better than the alternative,” Ed DeSeve, a special adviser to President Obama on the stimulus program, wrote in a White House blog post.

A series of news reports, notably by ABC News, highlighted bogus job creation claims on the administration's much-touted Recovery.gov Web site. The site tracks the $787 billion in stimulus funding approved earlier this year by Congress.

In one instance, Talladega County of Alabama claimed that 5,000 jobs had been saved or created from $42,000 in federal stimulus funds, according to the network. And a nonexistent congressional district in Arizona also was reported to have received federal dollars.

The administration is relying on funding recipients to report back on spending, job creation and retention — apparently without rigorous oversight. The Web site is part of Obama's pledge for transparency and accountability in government.

The administration has had trouble selling the notion of jobs saved by stimulus spending. Recently, its claim that 640,000 jobs had been saved or created by the spending program was followed by a wave of skeptical news stories challenging those numbers. The administration later conceded the numbers may not be accurate.

It's a public relations problem for the White House, because Obama ran in part on a promise to do away with the bogus accounting and fuzzy math of prior administrations. The Recovery.gov Web site was started with great fanfare, and the president mentions it often.

And unlike many Washington kerfuffles that barely resonate outside the Beltway, unemployment and job creation are central concerns for many Americans. The administration had promised the stimulus bill would create jobs.

“Their biggest problem politically, and the nation's, is jobs,” said Stephen Hess, a presidential scholar at the Brookings Institution. “The administration is trying to make the argument that they got a whopping stimulus bill through and it's doing good things — but the problem is there aren't many people who can look around and say they know [someone] who got a job because of the stimulus.”

Hess called the notion of jobs saved by the stimulus a “cotton candy” number, and mostly unprovable.

The administration's reporting problems also drew an unusual rebuke from Rep. Dave Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, who called the inaccuracies “outrageous” and “ludicrous.”

“Credibility counts in government, and stupid mistakes like this undermine it,” Obey said.

DeSeve said errors in the job data were “relatively few,” and that jobs saved or created were possibly double what the administration has claimed. He also blamed typos and conceded the phantom Arizona congressional district error was “silly.”

“It would be great if every report filed was correct the first time, on time and contained no errors,” DeSeve said. “But that's not realistic when 130,000 reports are being filed in a 10-day period.”

jmason@washingtonexaminer.com

 

Click here to see the stimulus map produced by the team from the Washington Examiner editorial page.

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