[As other state-based journalists uncover similar problems we will continue to update this report. Those updates appear at the end of the story.]
First it was phantom Congressional districts. Now it’s phantom zip codes.
Last month, we reported on federal stimulus money credited with creating jobs in nonexistent New Mexico Congressional districts. Further examination of the most recent report on the recipients and uses of New Mexico’s share of the $787 billion stimulus shows jobs created and money going to zip codes that do not exist.
New Mexico Watchdog broke what became a national news story, and fodder for Jon Stewart and Steve Colbert. The website launched by the Obama Administration to track the destinations of billions of dollars of stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act showed billions going to nonexistent Congressional districts. The website, recovery.gov, reported $26.5 million going to ten New Mexico Congressional districts that do not exist. Those millions were credited with creating 61.5 jobs. Spadework by our Watchdog counterparts in other states showed a total of $6.4 billion reported as being allocated to 440 nonexistent, or “phantom,” Congressional districts.
The agency charged with tracking the stimulus funds, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, attempted to eliminate this embarrassment by lumping all the billions reported going to nonexistent Congressional districts into a new category called the “unassigned” Congressional district.
Closer examination of the latest recovery.gov report for New Mexico shows hundreds of thousands of dollars sent to and credited with creating jobs in zip codes that do not exist in New Mexico or anywhere else. Moreover, funds reported as being spent in New Mexico were given zip codes corresponding to areas in Washington and Oregon.
The recovery.gov site reports that $373,874 was spent in zip code 97052. Unfortunately, this expenditure created zip jobs. But $36,218 was credited with creating 5 jobs in zip code 87258. A cool hundred grand went into zip code 86705, but didn’t result in even one person finding work.
None of these zip codes exist in New Mexico, or anywhere else, for that matter.
The recovery.gov report also credits New Mexico with $131,139, though the zip codes receiving these funds (but creating no jobs) are in fact located in DuPont, Washington, Richland, Washington, and Gales Creek, Oregon.
These errors were found by checking the zip codes reported at recovery.gov against the United States Postal Service’s on-line zip code locator. Coming on top of our discovery of millions of dollars reportedly going to ten phantom New Mexico Congressional Districts, this latest discovery confirms that the data released by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, at least for New Mexico, contains serious errors. All told, we have found over $27 million dollars that has been reported as going to either nonexistent Congressional districts or nonexistent zip codes.
As in the case of the phantom Congressional districts, the dollar magnitude of the errors we found in little New Mexico was eclipsed by the repetition of these glaring reporting errors across the nation. If we can find nonexistent zip codes, we have no doubt that our counterparts in other states, which have received much more money, will again be able to repeat and expand upon our results for the Land of Enchantment.
The next quarterly report tracking stimulus funds, and reporting jobs created or saved by expenditure of those funds, is scheduled to be posted by the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board on January 30, 2010. The reports are docketed for quarterly releases. The discovery of errors, raising questions about the integrity and accuracy of the data, have occurred with the release of every report.
Update West Virginia Watchdog’s Steve Allen Adams reports $28 million in stimulus funds going to what he has discovered are nonexistent zip codes.
Update Nebraska Watchdog’s Joe Jordan has found millions going to nonexistent zip codes.
Update Scott St. Clair, the watchdog at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Washington state finds stimulus funds reported as going to nonexistent zip codes.
Update Paige Winfield at Old Dominion Watchdog finds millions–$9.5 million–going to nonexistent zip codes and other significant errors.
UpdateTom Steward at Freedome Foundation of Minnesota finds hundreds of thousands of stimulus bucks reported going to nonexistent zip codes.
Update Todd Shepherd of the Independence Institute finds millions reported going to nonexistent Colorado zip codes.
Update Andrew Griffin at Oklahoma Watchdog finds $11.5 million reported by recovery.gov going to nonexistent zip codes.