The government watchdog overseeing economic stimulus spending said Thursday that, in its rush to take credit for saving hundreds of thousands of jobs, the Obama administration was overly confident in its job-counting and did not acknowledge significant errors in the figures.
Numbers released last month identified more than 640,000 jobs linked to stimulus projects around the country. Despite warning signs that the numbers were flawed, the White House said the public could have confidence in them and they proved the administration was on track save or create 3.5 million jobs by the end of next year.
Since then, tens of thousands of problems have been documented, from the substantive to the clerical. Republicans have been able to use those flaws to attack what so far is the signature domestic policy of Obama's presidency.
The criticism has resonated, even though economic data shows that overall government efforts, from President George W. Bush's bank bailout to President Barack Obama's stimulus, have improved the economy. Fewer than 1 in 10 Americans think the stimulus has created any jobs so far, according to a CBS News poll this week.
Earl Devaney, chair of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, the watchdog whose group compiled and released the job data, said he could not certify the numbers were correct. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., asked whether the administration should have been more conservative and acknowledged it had "no idea" whether the jobs were being counted correctly.
"Wouldn't that be a fairer way to put it?" Issa said.
"I like that statement," Devaney replied.
The White House said Thursday that it had been up front about the errors. Spokeswoman Elizabeth Oxhorn noted that, on the day the figures were released, Vice President Joe Biden said, "This is an unprecedented undertaking. And we know — we know that it's not 100 percent accurate."
The Obama administration has expressed varying degrees of confidence in the numbers, depending on who was talking and when:
- Sept. 23, White House communications director Anita Dunn: "It is not going to be a perfect process here at the beginning."
- Oct. 29, White House press release: "These reports have been reviewed for weeks, errors have been spotted and corrected, and additional layers of review by state and local governments have further improved the data quality."
- Oct. 30, Biden, in a White House press release: "These reports are strong confirmation that the Recovery Act is responsible for over one million jobs so far."
- Oct. 30, White House economic adviser Jared Bernstein, in a report: "Focusing on (mistakes in the reports) risks obscuring a key point: Real-time reporting about job creation, with reports coming from thousands of projects all across the country, has never even been attempted before."
- Oct. 31, Obama: "It is clear that the recovery act has now created and saved more than a million jobs."
- Nov. 1, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, when asked by NBC News whether the 640,000 figure was fact or spin: "This is a fact."
- Nov. 6, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, in remarks to the Chamber of Commerce: "We know for a fact that Recovery Act investments have created or saved more than 640,000 direct jobs so far. These are real, identifiable jobs directly funded by the Act."
- Thursday, Oxhorn, in a statement: "We have been clear from the beginning that the data would not be 100 percent perfect, but would provide a meaningful indication of Recovery Act job impact."