- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Despite receiving more than $885 million in federal economic stimulus funds since 2009, the D.C. government — whose residents face one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation — cannot say how many jobs it actually created for those who live in the District.

Most of the money has been spent, and data suggest that overall regional job growth did occur as a result of the massive infusion of capital. But a review by The Washington Times of figures provided by D.C. officials shows that the city spent hundreds of millions of dollars without being able to demonstrate any significant improvement in the city’s jobs outlook.

If anything, the employment picture has worsened in the District. At the end of 2011, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the city’s unemployment rate was 10.4 percent, ahead of only three states: Nevada (12.6 percent), California (11.1 percent) and Rhode Island (10.8 percent).

That figure contrasts sharply with a 5.5 percent unemployment rate in the metropolitan D.C. area, which includes parts of Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

In the District, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate has increased by 8 percent since 2009, as the D.C. government was receiving historic levels of federal stimulus funding via contracts, grants, loans, tax benefits and entitlements.

News reports in recent weeks also showed that, according to a study by the nonprofit investigative journalism site ProPublica, the District ranks highest in the nation in terms of per-capita receipt of federal stimulus funds. Yet the city’s own numbers show that it has a long way to go to demonstrate tangible results for its own residents.

According to the D.C. Office of the Chief Financial Officer, the best estimate of federal stimulus funds received by the D.C. government from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2011 is $885.6 million.

To keep track of how that money translates to job creation, the city administrator must file quarterly reports to the federal government under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, said Tony Robinson, director of public affairs. In response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Times, Mr. Robinson disclosed eight quarterly reports that the District filed under the act, showing the creation of more than 9,500 jobs.

Of those jobs, more than half — 5,961 — were created by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, according to an analysis by The Times. But according to the office, which received approximately $224 million in federal stimulus since 2009 through the end of last year, and which says it “created or retained” 7,007 jobs since the stimulus began, it’s anyone’s guess how many D.C. residents were hired.

“Each grant is unique, some lead to job creation more than others,” said Vanessa Carlo-Miranda, director of grants management. “We can only require local hiring to the extent the federal government requires it, and generally the only requirement is to track the number of jobs created or saved.

“It’s just not our mandate, even though we do a lot of training to ensure compliance with the reporting requirement,” she said. “I’m sure there are people who collect such information in D.C., but I don’t know who.”

The D.C. Department of Transportation, which says it created 1,253 jobs in the city’s eight quarterly reports reviewed by The Times, and which says it has created some 700 more since the data were disclosed, struck a similar tone.

“Local hiring requirements don’t generally apply on federally funded programs,” spokesman John Lisle said. “That doesn’t mean we don’t encourage local hiring whenever possible, but there’s a difference between that and what we can require under the law.”

When asked how many jobs the Department of Transportation has created for D.C. residents with the use of more than $123 million in federal stimulus funds, Mr. Lisle replied, “I don’t know. We don’t track D.C. hires.”

The D.C. Department of the Environment, which says it has received $57 million in federal stimulus funds, created 516 jobs, according to the eight quarterly reports reviewed by The Times. Department officials couldn’t say how many D.C. residents received those jobs.

“We definitely did not collect data on D.C. residents,” said spokeswoman Donna Henry, who noted that additional jobs may have been created apart from the data reviewed by The Times. “There’s also a lot of subcontractors involved.”

D.C. officials said that tracking jobs is not as easy as it sounds. One official, who requested anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak for the agency, said each department that receives federal stimulus funds reports its expenditures to the city administrator on a quarterly basis. That office takes the total expenditures and runs them through a formula to come up with the theoretical number of jobs created or retained for budgetary purposes, the official said.

“It doesn’t count actual full-time employees,” the official said of the formula.

At a recent D.C. Council retreat, a frequent theme among the council members was the need to encourage local business development and local hiring. Mayor Vincent C. Gray has made job creation one of his top three priorities.

Yet according to the data reviewed by The Times, the state superintendent’s office and the departments of transportation and environment accounted for almost half of the District’s receipt of federal stimulus funds and reported creating roughly 80 percent of its new jobs through those funds, but could not demonstrate the creation of actual jobs for D.C. residents.

The stimulus jobs-creation vacuum predates the Gray administration. Officials said they hesitated to alter the methodology of the previous administration, but The Times has been requesting base-line data from the District for more than six months.

The city administrator’s office said the District reported to the federal government that it created 12,709 jobs as of the end of the most recent reporting period, but officials concede that the figure is derived from a formula based on expenditures and does not represent actual full-time employees who are D.C. residents.

In an emailed statement, Mr. Gray said the District used stimulus funds to help the local economy at a time when it was needed most to create jobs, spur economic activity and invest in critical infrastructure that otherwise would not have been possible.

“The stimulus funding helped create thousands of full- and part-time jobs,” he said, adding that the District is “doing everything possible to get our residents trained and working in jobs for the new, technology-driven and ‘green’ economies.”

Luke Rosiak contributed to this report.

• Jeffrey Anderson can be reached at jmanderson@washingtontimes.com.

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