USDA Inflated the Number of Jobs Created by Stimulus, IG Says

December 21, 2012 - 4:08 PM

USDA

U.S. Department of Agriculture building, Washington, D.C. (USDA photo)

(CNSNews.com) -  The U.S. Department of Agriculture improperly inflated the numbers of jobs created or saved by the 2009 economic stimulus, according to the agency’s own Office of Inspector General (OIG).

“[We] identified job numbers that were inflated because award recipients reported cumulative job numbers instead of the number of jobs created or saved during the quarter being reported. In other instances, job numbers were underreported,” according to an OIG audit released Dec. 13.

The report claims that without accurate job figures, it is “difficult” to know whether the 2009 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was effective in creating or saving jobs.

“Without accurate data about the number of jobs USDA agencies retained or created through the use of Recovery Act Funds, it is difficult to measure how effective the Department was in accomplishing a main Recovery Act objective, which was to create and retain jobs.”

Individual reporting errors were not identified because of the inadequate “analytical tools” that USDA agencies were using to corroborate job numbers, the IG said. In addition to inflating job numbers, there were also instances of underreporting.

Before posting job data on Recovery.gov  -- the government transparency Web site -- award recipients provide information via FederalReporting.gov, where information is verified by government agencies.

As of March 31, 2011, USDA agencies had posted 4,960 awards amounting to $9.29 billion to Recovery.gov.

However, USDA agencies did not properly verify information received by award recipients, who did not always provide accurate job numbers, according to the inspector general.

“OIG determined that inaccurate job numbers were reported to FederalReporting.gov because recipients did not always report correct information and USDA agencies did not adequately analyze the number of jobs that award recipients were reporting,” the report said. “Not all recipients were aware of the OMB-required methodology for calculating jobs; consequently, they made errors when they reported.”

Moreover, USDA agency representatives told the OIG that errors were overlooked and there was inadequate analysis to recognize errors.

The OIG told CNSNews.com that it is “possible” that some job reporting errors occurred in other quarters as well.

“It is possible: some of the recipients explained that the errors were caused due to their misunderstanding the requirements for reporting the number of jobs created,” the OIG said in a statement.

“If recipients incorrectly reported the number of jobs created in the quarter ending March 31, 2011, and they used the same process to compute the number of jobs created in previous quarters, then errors would probably exist in the reporting for previous quarters.”

The report analyzed a sample of 99 stimulus awards for the quarter between Jan.1 , 2011 and March 31, 2011 –which accounted for approximately 375 of the 1,200 jobs that were reportedly saved or created in that same quarter.

From the sample of 99 awards, 33 contained job reporting errors.

During the quarter ended March 31, 2011, USDA reported 10,600 jobs were created or saved due to Stimulus funding.

To properly review data analysis procedures, OIG interviewed USDA agency representatives, reviewed laws and regulations and then conducted a “detailed review” of the 99 awards in the sample.

The report recommends that USDA agencies ensure that job numbers correctly correspond to awards, and award recipients only report job numbers for individual quarters.

“Direct agencies to develop data tests and guidance to improve their reviews of the jobs information reported on FederalReporting.gov,” the report said.

“This includes, but is not limited to, ensuring that the project description fields match the number of jobs reported, recipients with multiple awards are reporting accurately, and recipients are reporting only the jobs created or saved during the quarter being reported.”

In total, USDA received $28 billion in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which was signed by President Obama on February 17, 2009. The $28 billion in funding took the form of loans, contracts or grants and were mostly directed to rural projects.