Agencies find errors in Recovery Act spending reports

Stimulus reporting errors include highway projects. Stimulus reporting errors include highway projects. Jim Prisching/AP
More than 12 percent of reports filed by recipients of stimulus funds during the fourth quarter of 2009 required corrections, often because of mistakes in counting jobs, according to data released on Wednesday by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

The majority of the changes involved highway projects funded by the Transportation Department. The fixes most often involved figures for jobs funded by the projects, descriptions of those jobs or amounts of money received, the data shows.

The changes led to a decline of about 4,000 jobs from the initial total for the quarter. Recipients had reported funding 599,108 jobs from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, 2009. After the corrections, the jobs total dropped to 595,263.

Recipients of Recovery Act contracts, grants and loans are required to report quarterly on the status of their stimulus-funded projects and the amount of money spent. But the reporting process, which involves more than 90 different data elements, can be complicated and has led to significant filing errors, including overstated job totals and phantom congressional districts.

During the initial reporting period, from February through September 2009, recipients of stimulus funds had 20 days to fix errors in their reports. Under a policy recently implemented by the board, recipients can now correct mistakes in their award reports continually on FederalReporting.gov, the collection Web site for reports.

On Jan. 30 2010, nearly 162,000 award reports were posted on Recovery.gov for the final quarter of 2009. Beginning on Feb. 2 and continuing through March 15, federal agencies had the opportunity to review those reports and instruct recipients to fix errors.

Job figures accounted for most of the changes, likely as a result of a new counting formula the Obama administration adopted. In December 2009, the Office of Management and Budget dropped its much-maligned jobs "saved or created" formula, which critics suggested was subjective and impossible to verify. Recipients were asked to submit only the number of jobs the Recovery Act funded, regardless of whether the positions were in danger of being lost.

The change, which was adopted late in the year and received little publicity, might have escaped many recipients. The January reports included multiple references to jobs saved or created in the narrative column of the spending reports.

The new data shows that recipients made nearly 6,000 changes to their jobs totals. Recipients also found errors in more than 4,600 reports describing the types of jobs funded.

Most of the changes involved infrastructure projects. Just under half the highway planning and construction reports needed to be fixed, along with 43 percent of reports for federal transit formula grants.

Transportation logged the most changes among federal agencies, followed by the Health and Human Services and Housing and Urban Development departments.

California, which reported receiving the most stimulus money and funding the most jobs, also changed the most reports -- nearly 2,000 out of just over 14,000. New York was among the most accurate, changing only 8 percent of its nearly 8,000 spending reports.

The correction data will be updated on Recovery.gov every two weeks until March 17.

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