November 5, 2009

A Recovery.gov Review

Have you ever wished for a guide to help you understand all the information on Recovery.gov? ProPublica has exactly what you're looking for with a guide that reviews six broad areas of stimulus spending.

For jobs, it gives insight on how the number of jobs "created or saved" is calculated. Instead of using a straight headcount, it uses "full-time equivalents." As explained by ProPublica, "The White House instructed recipients to measure the number of hours worked on stimulus projects and divide it by the number of hours in a full-time schedule for the quarter. So a construction worker on a one-month paving project would count only as a third of a job."

Measuring how effectively the money has been disbursed ran into problems because spending isn't tracked down to the county level. Not having this information makes it tough for researchers to know how or if the money lowered unemployment.

In terms of transparency, Recovery.gov has struggled with getting accurate data. The guide continues, "On Oct. 15, for the first batch of data, Recovery.gov listed Sanofi Pasteur, a French vaccine manufacturer, with the largest stimulus contract, worth $1.4 billion. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the amount should have been $10.4 million." While the error was corrected, there is no doubt other incongruities hidden elsewhere in the site.

There is also some waste and abuse. Money going to airports with less than one flight an hour, lion and tiger dens, and mascot costumes are all included. In addition, nearly $30 million has gone to companies under criminal investigation.

Kudos to ProPublica for putting the guide together. I hope you'll find it as helpful as I did.