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$6.4 Billion Stimulus Goes to Phantom Districts

By   /   November 17, 2009  /   51 Comments

Just how big is the stimulus package? Well for one, it has doubled the size of the House of Representatives, according to recovery.gov, which says that funds were distributed to 440 congressional districts that do not exist.

According to data retrieved from recovery.gov, nearly $6.4 billion was used to “create or save” just under 30,000 jobs in these phantom congressional districts–almost $225,000 per job. The web site operates on an $84 million budget and is tasked with monitoring the distribution of the $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress–which, for the record, counts 435 members–in early 2009.

The site’s monitors, however, are not too savvy about America’s political or geographic landscape. More than $2 million was given to the 99th District of North Dakota, a state which has only one congressional district. In order to qualify for 99 districts, North Dakota would have to have a population of about 60 million people, almost 24 million more people than California.

The stimulus revived 8 recently retired congressional districts. Pennsylvania’s 21st District has received just under $2 million in funds. Mississippi’s 5th District and Oklahoma’s 6th received $1 million from the legislation, respectively. All three were eliminated by the 2000 census.

Many other recipients carried the banner for congressional districts that have been defunct for decades. South Carolina’s 7th took the cake, garnering more than $27 million in stimulus funds, despite being eliminated in 1930. And Virginia’s 12th District may have been written off at the start of the Civil War, but it must carry some sentimental value in Old Dominion–it received more than $2 million, according to recovery.gov.

The stimulus helped to create 35 congressional districts in Washington D.C. and the four American territories, all of which have no congressional districts. These areas received $5 of the $6.4 billion distributed to the non-existent districts.

New Mexico Watchdog broke the story on Monday morning after finding that $26 million in stimulus money had been distributed to 13 congressional districts–ten more than the state actually has. Similar reports soon followed from New Hampshire, Kansas, Ohio, Minnesota and West Virginia.

A reporter from the Montana Policy Institue confronted the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, which oversees the site, about these non-existent congressional districts on Monday afternoon. Ed Pound, Director of Communications for the board, said that the faulty information came from recipients of stimulus funds.

“People make errors, and we’ve found people are making errors in these reports,” Pound said…

Recipients file their reports on a password-protected site. That information is then relayed to officials who oversee the recovery.gov website to post, Pound said. Unless an egregious error is noted, Pound said they post the information exactly as it is received.

“Our job is data integrity, not data quality,” he said.

The integrity of the data, however, has also come under scrutiny several times in the past month. Numerous media studies have revealed a reporting system riddled with errors and results that are “impossible” to calculate, such as the number of jobs “saved” by the bill.

Vice President Joe Biden admitted that the administration’s statistics were flawed after an Associated Press study revealed several instances of exaggerated and outright false job creation. The vice president acknowledged that “further updates and corrections are going to be needed.”

The administration may have begun to do just that. 60,000 jobs were cut from original stimulus estimates on Monday, citing faulty data.

Pound says that the board plans on correcting the site’s other reporting errors during the next data collection cycle, which is set for January.

The full data from the Franklin Center study can be found below or by clicking here. All information was pulled directly from recovery.gov.


Recovery’s Phantom Districts

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Bill McMorris is an editor and investigative reporter at the national watchdog network. A print journalist by training, he has written for the Santa Barbara News-Press, National Review Online and Libertas magazine. While in Santa Barbara, Mr. McMorris produced a wide range of investigative work. His coverage of a November 2008 wildfire revealed that the city had lost nearly ten times more homes than the fire department initially told the public. He also investigated charges of power abuse against the city’s police chief, as well as pay increases at the District Attorney’s Office following a series of lay-offs. Mr. McMorris was educated at Cornell University where he studied government and history. When he is not reporting he is trying to pay for a wedding.

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