Stimulus created 600,000 jobs at the end of 2009, White House says

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 1, 2010

The Obama administration's economic stimulus program created nearly 600,000 jobs in the final three months of 2009, a figure in line with the administration's goals for job creation through the end of 2010, the White House reported Saturday night.

The new total was down from the totals reported for the previous quarter, partly because the administration decided in December to count only the jobs paid for with stimulus funding instead of estimating the number of jobs "created or saved" with the money.

Critics had panned the "created or saved" measurement as a subjective and confusing way of determining the program's success.

The federal government on Saturday released about 160,000 quarterly spending reports from stimulus recipients representing about one-fifth of the program's spending. Federal law requires the release of reports covering infrastructure and education spending. Officials said new safeguards should help avoid the mistakes discovered in last fall's first batch of information.

Stimulus critics had trumpeted the discovery of several quarterly reports that included phantom Zip codes and nonexistent congressional districts. But the computer program recipients used to submit their spending information online now includes checks that ensured correct geographic information.

"We tried not to do too much of that the first time, because we were trying to get recipients to report, without all these edit checks," said Earl Devaney, chairman of the federal board responsible for stimulus oversight. "But they made so many, quite frankly, errors in their reporting that we felt this time we had to build them in."

After weeks of headlines and criticism, Devaney said, he is expecting that most recipients will be more careful in future reporting.

The former Secret Service agent cemented his nonpartisan reputation after unearthing the beginnings of the Jack Abramoff scandal while serving as the Interior Department's inspector general. President Obama appointed him head of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board almost a year ago to keep watch for potential abuse of the economic recovery plan.

Devaney's team operates, the government's stimulus-tracking Web site, while Vice President Biden and other administration officials handle the political spin.

He welcomed the Obama administration's decision to scrap the "created or saved" job measurement, a sentiment shared by the Government Accountability Office and several good-government groups.

"From the recipient's point of view, it should be easier to figure out," Devaney said. "It's quite frankly an easier formula to divide."

But, acknowledging critics of the program, Devaney said, "The people who got the money feel this is working."

Though there have been no immediate signs of major waste or abuse, Devaney said, "I've been around this town too long to not expect a train wreck at some point."

Craig Jennings, a fiscal policy analyst with the nonpartisan OMB Watch, said his group still wants to see recipients report the number of hours worked by employees as opposed to the number of jobs created.

"Count the number of hours funded by Recovery Act dollars, then let the experts decide if that's a job," Jennings said.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), a vocal critic of the recovery program, warned the White House against attempts to spin the latest batch of information to its political benefit.

"If the new numbers are used to create transparency and better understand how and where funds are being spent, that's a good thing," Issa said. "If the administration again takes the new numbers out of context and creates another propaganda effort on the stimulus, then they're setting themselves up for the same criticism they brought on themselves after the initial reporting period."

In a statement Saturday, Biden said of the reporting process: "Since this is a partial survey based on reports filed by recipients, we know it's not perfect or complete -- but it is providing a level of detail about a government program that has never before been made available to the public."

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