GAO Report Shines Spotlight on Recovery Act Jobs Data

On Nov. 19, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report that details the first round of Recovery Act recipient reports. The GAO report focuses on data quality issues, which have garnered attention following widespread news stories about bad data in the Recovery Act reports. While the GAO report itself is informative, its recommendations, which call for improved guidance from the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), are particularly important. The recommendations echo earlier comments from transparency groups, which have long warned of potential data quality problems, especially concerning the job estimation data.

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About Those Recovery Act Job Numbers

Prominently displayed in a large, green font on the front page of Recovery.gov is the number 640,329. That is the number of jobs created or saved as reported by the recipients of some $150 billion in Recovery Act funds. The placement, font size, and accompanying press release from the White House have drawn immense attention and copious media reports. However, questions about the number's accuracy degrade the count's usefulness as a gauge of the economic impact of the Recovery Act. The figure itself remains only a fragment of the information that describes how the act is improving the economy and helping unemployed workers.

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October Surprise: Looming Recovery Act Data Quality Issues

At the end of October, the first round of recipient reporting for the Recovery Act will be released on Recovery.gov. This reporting is a crucial step in Recovery Act oversight and transparency, but there is no guarantee that the reporting process will proceed smoothly. Come October, the diffusion of responsibility for Recovery Act data quality could result in a great deal of confusion, as a flood of bad data could stymie the administration’s efforts at Recovery Act transparency.

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OMB Watch Releases Recovery Act Transparency Status Report

WASHINGTON, Sept. 10, 2009—This week, Recovery Act transparency will begin to take center stage. Today, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee held a hearing on stimulus spending, the Council of Economic Advisors will release its report on Recovery Act job creation, and the Government Accountability Office prepares to release its third bimonthly report on Recovery Act implementation and transparency. To highlight strengths and weaknesses of disclosure and accountability in Recovery Act spending, OMB Watch is releasing a comprehensive report on Recovery Act transparency.

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House Passes Statutory PAYGO Bill

The House passed legislation (H.R. 2920) on July 22 that would reinstate statutory "pay-as-you-go" (PAYGO) budgeting rules, which were allowed to expire in 2002.

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TARP IG Reports Underscore Need for Better Transparency in Financial Bailout

Two recent reports by the Special Inspector General for the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP), Neil Barofsky, provide useful information and stand in sharp contrast to the Treasury Department's attempt to provide comparable transparency for the program, also known as TARP. One report clearly presents existing TARP information, while the other supplies new data that Treasury should be providing. In both cases, the reports highlight changes Treasury should make to how it conducts and presents TARP data.

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Focus on Implementation Lacking in Hearing on Recovery Act

On July 8, the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the implementation of the Recovery Act to date. The hearing included testimony from a number of government officials and raised concerns that some members of Congress may lack a clear understanding of the challenges of implementing and tracking a large-scale economic recovery effort. As implementation progresses and new decisions are made, better oversight of these developments will become even more important.

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OMB Watch and Coalition for an Accountable Recovery Ask Government to Post Recovery.gov Contract Online

WASHINGTON, July 13, 2009—Today, OMB Watch and the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery wrote to the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and requested that the board immediately make available on Recovery.gov the recently announced contract with Smartronix to redesign Recovery.gov, the contract or task order with CGI Federal to create FederalReporting.gov, and any other contracts related to the work of the board.

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House Hearing Questions Whether PAYGO is Enough to Control Spending

The House Budget Committee held a hearing on June 24 on the Statutory Pay-As-You-Go (PAYGO) Act of 2009, which was recently introduced by Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD). During the hearing, House members focused on the enforcement mechanisms in PAYGO, the significant exemptions granted under the proposed legislation, and whether the bill is the appropriate method to reinstate fiscal discipline in Congress.

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2008 Fiscal Policy Year in Review

It's been an exceptional year. 2008 saw not only economic indicators that evoked memories of the Great Depression, but also a record-breaking federal budget deficit. The federal government, through several agencies, activated trillions of dollars in loans and asset guarantees. Congress approved the largest supplemental spending bill in its history and gave the Treasury Department the authority to expend the equivalent of three-fourths of the federal discretionary budget on one sector of the economy. But in many other ways, Congress proved to be unremarkable by staying true to its recent history of underachievement.

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