The government’s latest count of stimulus jobs significantly overstates the effects of the $787 billion program under a
popular federal preschool program, raising fresh questions about the process the Obama administration is using to tout the
success of its economic recovery plan.
An Associated Press review of the latest stimulus reports — which
the White House promised would undergo extensive reviews to ensure accuracy — found that more than two-thirds of 14,506
jobs credited to the recovery act under spending by just one federal office were overstated because they counted pay increases
for existing workers as jobs saved.
The inflated job count is at least partly the product of the administration
instructing local community agencies that received money to count the raises as jobs saved.
"That’s more than
ridiculous," said Antonia Ferrier, a spokeswoman for Republican House Minority Leader John Boehner.
the inflated figures were like those cited in the 935 saved jobs reported by the Southwest Georgia Community Action in Moultrie,
Ga. The agency, like hundreds of others collecting Head Start money, claimed all its existing employees’ jobs were saved because
they received a pay raise with the stimulus cash.
Similar claims led to overstating by more than 9,300 the number
of jobs saved with more than $323 million in stimulus money distributed by the Health and Human Services’ Administration for
Children and Families, the AP’s review found.
More than 250 other community agencies in the U.S. similarly reported
saving jobs when using the money to give pay raises, pay for training and continuing education, extend employee work hours
or buy equipment, according to their spending reports.
The Georgia program inflated the numbers even further by
claiming the recovery money saved more jobs than the number of people it actually employs. The agency employs 508 people but
claimed 935 jobs were saved because of confusion over government reports.
That type of accounting error was found
in an earlier AP review of stimulus jobs, which the Obama administration said was misleading because most of the government’s
job-counting mistakes were being fixed in the new data.
The AP’s new review focused only on the money distributed
by the Administration for Children and Families and was not an assessment of the money handled by dozens of other federal
programs and other job claims made in the new stimulus report.
The administration acknowledged overcounting in
the new numbers for the HHS program. Elizabeth Oxhorn, a spokeswoman for the White House recovery office, said the Obama administration
was reviewing the Head Start data "to determine how and if it will be counted."
But officials defended
the practice of counting raises as saved jobs.
"If I give you a raise, it is going to save a portion of your
job," HHS spokesman Luis Rosero said.
The raises themselves were appropriate since the stimulus law set aside
money for Head Start salary increases, but converting that number into jobs saved proved difficult. The Obama administration
told Head Start officials to consider a fraction of each employee as a job saved.
Many Head Start programs around
the country went further, counting everyone who received a raise as a saved job.
"It’s a glitch in the system,"
said Ben Allen, the research director at the National Head Start Association. "There was some misunderstanding among
some in the Head Start community about completing the reporting requirements."
Allen said a cost-of-living
adjustment "may not be viewed traditionally as a job saved, but one could interpret it that, by providing COLA, you’re
The Bergen County Community Action Program in Hackensack, N.J., noted the nearly $213,000
it received went to cover raises for existing staff only. But it also reported saving 85 jobs.
At Southwest Georgia
Community Action Council, director Myrtis Mulkey-Ndawula said she followed the guidelines the Obama administration provided.
She said she multiplied the 508 employees by 1.84 — the percentage pay raise they received — and came up with
935 jobs saved.
"I would say it’s confusing at best," she said. "But we followed the instructions
we were given."
Ed DeSeve, who oversees the stimulus at the White House, said the Head Start numbers "represent
a few percent of all jobs reported" and said the problems would probably be balanced out by other errors that underreported
"We don’t expect any corrections to this data to meaningfully impact the total 640,000 direct jobs,"
Last week’s stimulus report claimed 640,000 jobs saved or created by the economic recovery plan so
far. Those jobs came from 156,614 federal contracts, grants and loans awarded to more than 62,000 recipients, worth a total
of $215 billion.
Obama has promised the stimulus would save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year,
and the data released Friday represented the first head count toward that goal.