Groups Call for Recovery.gov Overhaul Before Major Data Release on October 30

by Brian Gumm, 10/16/2009

PRESS RELEASE
For Immediate Release
October 16, 2009

Contact: Brian Gumm, OMB Watch, (202) 683-4812, bgumm@ombwatch.org; Philip Mattera, Good Jobs First, (202) 232-1616 x212; or John Irons, Economic Policy Institute, (202) 775-8810

Groups Call for Recovery.gov Overhaul Before Major Data Release on October 30

WASHINGTON, Oct. 16, 2009—Three nonprofit organizations that have been tracking the Recovery Act today called for the Obama administration to overhaul its jobs data system before releasing its first large set of data on Oct. 30.

Based on what they called very disappointing data quality and presentation in the release of a very small amount of federal contracting data yesterday, OMB Watch, Good Jobs First, and the Economic Policy Institute said they are seeking to meet with officials at the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) and the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board (Recovery Board) to detail the groups' complaints.

“Both the quality of the data and its awkward presentation preclude meaningful analysis by analysts, taxpayers, or the news media,” said OMB Watch executive director Gary D. Bass. “The data must improve if the Recovery Act is to meet President Obama’s pledge of true transparency.”

Given these limitations, the jobs data should be viewed with extreme caution. In particular, inconsistencies in reporting methodologies across recipients precludes a comparison of job creation across contractors. Further, job totals will likely be too low and not comparable across states. Estimates of the "cost" of jobs – either in aggregate or for individual contractors – will be inaccurate and misleading as well.

Yesterday, the Coalition for an Accountable Recovery (of which the three groups are members) issued a press statement itemizing numerous problems with the Recovery.gov data, citing both obvious data irregularities and structural problems that make downloads tedious and data analysis almost impossible. The release is at www.CoalitionForAnAccountableRecovery.org.

The three groups will urge OMB and the Recovery Board to:

  • Improve systems to catch obvious data errors
  • Revise the way downloads are structured (so that a national analysis does not require 150 downloads)
  • Issue new guidance covering the remaining seven quarterly reports to make recipient reporting more uniform and reliable

The Recovery Board and other administration officials should also pressure contractors to provide more accurate and complete information as part of their reports.

Even after fixing data errors, the groups added, the recipient reporting system should include a way for the user to distinguish between projects that have begun work – and thus can be expected to have generated jobs – and those that are still in the planning stage and probably have not started hiring. Many of the contractor reports in this week's data fall into the latter category, creating an artificially low job creation total.

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The Coalition for an Accountable Recovery was formed in February 2009 by about 30 organizations to promote transparency and accountability in the $787 billion Recovery Act. In numerous communications, meetings and public events since, it has helped influence the implementation of Recovery Act disclosure systems and engaged diverse organizations to help them learn more about the act and participate in the debate over its implementation.

OMB Watch is a nonprofit government watchdog organization dedicated to promoting government accountability, citizen participation in public policy decisions, and the use of fiscal and regulatory policy to serve the public interest.

Good Jobs First promotes corporate and government accountability in economic development and smart growth for working families.

The Economic Policy Institute broadens the discussion about economic policy to include the interests of low- and middle-income working families.