WASHINGTON — An early progress report on President Barack Obama's economic recovery plan overstates by thousands the number of jobs created or saved through the stimulus program, a mistake that White House officials promise will be corrected in future reports.
The government's first accounting of jobs tied to the $787 billion stimulus program claimed more than 30,000 positions paid for with recovery money. But that figure is overstated by least 5,000 jobs, or one in six, according to an Associated Press review of a sample of stimulus contracts.
The AP review found some counts were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of jobs; some jobs credited to the stimulus program were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.
— A company working with the Federal Communications Commission reported that stimulus money paid for 4,231 jobs, when about 1,000 were produced.
— A Georgia community college reported creating 280 jobs with recovery money, but none was created from stimulus spending.
— A Florida child care center said its stimulus money saved 129 jobs but used the money on raises for existing employees.
There's no evidence the White House sought to inflate job numbers in the report. But administration officials seized on the 30,000 figure as evidence that the stimulus program was on its way toward fulfilling the president's promise of creating or saving 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.
The reporting problem could be magnified Friday when a much larger round of reports is expected to show hundreds of thousands of jobs repairing public housing, building schools, repaving highways and keeping teachers on local payrolls.
But the White House promises many problems will be corrected in Friday's report.
"I think you'll see a pretty good degree of accuracy," said Ed DeSeve, an Obama adviser helping to oversee the stimulus program.
DeSeve said the administration is aware of problems with the early data. Agencies have been working with businesses that received the money to correct mistakes. Other errors discovered by the public also will be corrected, he said.
"If there's an error that was made, let's get it fixed," DeSeve said.
The White House released a statement early Thursday responding to the AP review, arguing what the administration said are the "real facts" about how jobs were counted in the stimulus data distributed two weeks ago. It said for the first time Thursday that release had been a test run of a small subset of data that had been subjected only to three days of reviews, that it had already corrected "virtually all" the mistakes identified by the AP and that the discovery of mistakes "does not provide a statistically significant indication of the quality of the full reporting that will come on Friday."
The data partially reviewed by the AP for errors included all the data presently available, representing all known federal contracts awarded to businesses under the stimulus program. The figures being released Friday include different categories of stimulus spending by state governments, housing authorities, nonprofit groups and other organizations.
As of early Thursday, on its recovery.org Web site, the government was still citing 30,383 as the actual number of jobs linked so far to stimulus spending, despite the mistakes the White House has now acknowledged and said were being corrected.
It's not clear just how far off the 30,000 claim was. The AP's review was not an exhaustive accounting of all 9,000 contracts, but homed in on the most obvious cases where there were indications of duplications or misinterpretations.
While the thousands of overstated jobs represent a tiny sliver of the overall economy, they represent a significant percentage of the initial employment count credited to the stimulus program.
Tom Gavin, a spokesman for the White House budget office, attributed the errors to officials as well as recipients having to conduct such reporting for the first time.
In fact, the AP review shows some businesses undercounted the number of jobs funded under the stimulus program by not reporting jobs saved.
Here are some of the findings:
— Colorado-based Teletech Government Solutions on a $28.3 million contract with the Federal Communications Commission for creation of a call center, reported creating 4,231 jobs, although 3,000 of those workers were paid for five weeks or less.
"We all felt it was an appropriate way to represent the data at the time" and the reporting error has been corrected, said company president Mariano Tan.
— The Toledo, Ohio-based Koring Group received two FCC contracts, again for call centers. It reported hiring 26 people for each contract, or a total of 52 jobs, but cited the same workers for both contracts. The jobs only lasted about two months.
The FCC spotted the problem. The company's owner, Steve Holland, acknowledged the actual job count is closer to five and blamed the problem on confusion about the reporting.
The AP's review identified nearly 600 contracts claiming stimulus money for more than 2,700 jobs that appear to have similar duplicated counts.
— Barbara Moore, executive director of the Child Care Association of Brevard County in Cocoa, Fla., reported that the $98,669 she received in stimulus money saved 129 jobs at her center, though the cash was used to give her 129 employees a 3.9 percent cost-of-living raise. She said she needed to boost their salaries because some workers had left "because we had not been able to give them a raise in four years."
— Officials at East Central Technical College in Douglas, Ga., said they now know they shouldn't have claimed 280 stimulus jobs linked to more than $200,000 to buy trucks and trailers for commercial driving instruction, and a modular classroom and bathroom for a health education program.
"It was an error on someone's part," said Mike Light, spokesman for the Technical College System of Georgia. The 280 were not jobs, but the number of students who would benefit, he said.
— The San Joaquin, Calif., Regional Rail Commission reported creating or saving 125 jobs as part of a stimulus project to lay railroad track. Because the project drew from two pools of money, the commission reported the jobs figure twice, bringing the total to 250 on the government report. Spokesman Thomas Reeves said the commission corrected the data Tuesday, although those corrections were not reflected Thursday in the government's total job count.
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