Wednesday, November 18, 2009
International Business The Economy: We knew something was funny when the White House claimed that 640,000 to 1 million jobs had been created from this year's stimulus. What we didn't know was that it would turn into a massive fraud. Not only have 640,000 new jobs not been created from the stimulus — an absurd claim, given the economy's loss of nearly 4 million payroll positions this year — but it now seems that even the jobs themselves are fictional. Thanks to the digging of a number of data sleuths, it turns out that many of the jobs reported by states come from made-up congressional districts. This would be funny if it weren't a criminal waste of public funds. And yet, G. Edward DeSeve, who runs the government's economic recovery program, says the errors are "relatively few" and "don't change the fundamental conclusions one can draw from the data." Excuse us? The "relatively few" errors are in fact thousands in number. But that's the pernicious place we find ourselves today — a public official defending shoddy accounting that looks an awful lot like fraud to the tune of billions of dollars. One example: the 15th Congressional District of Arizona, where 30 jobs were salvaged with $761,420 in spending, according to Recovery.gov, the official government Web site. As ABC News reports: "There is no 15th Congressional District in Arizona; the state has only eight districts." States as diverse as Kansas, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Ohio, Minnesota and West Virginia also reported phony jobs. Stimulus jobs were also reported in 35 congressional districts in Washington, D.C., and four U.S. territories. The problem: None of those jurisdictions even has congressional districts. All told, according to the useful Web site Watchdog.org, some $6.4 billion was spent to "create or save" 30,000 jobs in phantom districts. That comes out to about $225,000 per nonexistent job. And that's only what's been found so far. The Washington Examiner's bogus-job count is even higher — at 75,343, a figure likely to climb as more are discovered. Some cases were egregious. California's state university system took in $268.5 million in stimulus funds, claiming it "saved" 26,000 jobs. It has since admitted that few, if any, jobs were really at risk. The government's response to all this? "Human beings make mistakes," shrugged Recovery Board spokesman Ed Pound on Monday. But by Tuesday, as the furor grew, the board's DeSeve was vowing to go through reports with a "fine-tooth comb." But this should have been done all along. The official Web site vows that stimulus spending will "be subject to unprecedented transparency and accountability," and that inspectors general of 28 federal agencies will "continually review" their spending. To our knowledge, however, none of the errors was found by an inspector general. All were discovered by private individuals curious about what their tax dollars were being spent on. Imagine for a moment a CEO standing before the public and claiming similar bookkeeping errors. He'd be arrested for fraud, frog-marched from his office, tried, convicted and left to rot in jail. We said from the start that the stimulus and TARP programs would be an invitation to fraud, waste and abuse. Sadly, this has proved true. Yet no one is likely to suffer so much as a reprimand. As the White House talks about another stimulus, Americans need to know that the promises of transparency and openness in the first program haven't been kept. And that billions of their tax dollars are being wasted.