The government watchdog in charge of tracking stimulus dollars said he can’t be sure how many jobs the $787 billion program has created, admitting it “could be above or below” the 640,000 jobs the administration touts.
Republicans said false numbers amount to “propaganda” and that the uncertainty should cool Democrats’ talk of passing a second stimulus bill.
Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, told a congressional oversight panel that data from the stimulus bill’s first reporting period “is not particularly pretty” but that the accuracy of the information depends on the agencies and contractors that report it.
The numbers “may cause embarrassment for some agencies and recipients, but my expectation is that any embarrassment suffered will encourage self-correcting behavior and lead to more accurate reporting in the future,” Mr. Devaney told members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.
“If I’ve learned anything yet about transparency is that it’s harder to practice transparency than it is to talk about transparency. It’s definitely not something for the faint of heart.”
Nearly 4,000 designated recipients who had yet to receive stimulus funds nevertheless reported creating or saving more than 58,000 jobs, according to a Government Accountability Office report released Thursday. Elsewhere, the agency found that 9,200 recipients who did receive funds said they created no jobs.
The GAO report came on the heels of reports earlier in the week that Recovery.gov, the government’s public tracking site for the stimulus, contained erroneous reports of stimulus funds being awarded in congressional districts that don’t exist.
Republicans seized on Mr. Devaney’s admission that his office could not verify the Obama administration’s claim of 640,000 jobs being created as evidence of deception by the White House.
“That is propaganda, plain and clear,” said California Rep. Darrell Issa, the panel’s senior Republican. “The fact is they have no idea how many jobs have been saved or created.”
Democrats acknowledged hiccups in reporting but defended the stimulus bill’s performance. Rep. Chris Van Hollen, Maryland Democrat, cited GDP growth and declining monthly job losses as proof of its success.
“Characterizing a real job and the ability to take care of your family as ‘propaganda’ is a disservice to the American people,” said Mr. Van Hollen, an assistant to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The hearing was especially contentious given Democrats’ plan to craft a so-called “jobs bill” in the coming weeks. Though leaders have been careful not to classify it as a stimulus, critics said questions regarding the effectiveness of the first stimulus bill - $173 billion of which has been spent as of Sept. 30 - should serve as a warning.
“If you take the $787 billion and you’ve only spent $173 billion of it, why do you need another stimulus? This just doesn’t make any sense,” said Rep. Dan Burton, Indiana Republican.
Not everyone was critical of the stimulus, however.
“There is no question the Recovery Act is working as intended,” said John Porcari, deputy secretary at the Department of Transportation.