Federal requirements for monitoring jobs data associated with President Obama’s stimulus package are insufficient to ensure that that the information is accurate, according to a review of that data compiled by the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The IG released a report this week documenting widespread inaccuracies in USDA agencies’ reporting jobs “saved or created” by more than $28 billion in stimulus expenditures. One third of the awards examined in the report inaccurately reported that data.

The stimulus required that all recipients of federal money file quarterly reports with the awarding agencies detailing how the money was spent and the number of jobs created or “retained.”

According to the IG report, “recipients did not always report correct information and USDA agencies did not adequately analyze the number of jobs that award recipients were reporting.”

Though “agencies are expected to closely monitor this information and develop procedures to ensure this number is correct,” according to the IG, USDA agencies actually complied with all minimum reporting guidelines set by the White House Office of Management and Budget and USDA’s chief financial officer.

The IG agreed that those guidelines do not ensure the accuracy of jobs data. “Though we did find that they met the minimum requirements,” the report states, “those requirements were not adequate to identify the errors found in the number of jobs reported.”

The report examined 4,690 awards, whose recipients had reported about 10,600 jobs “created or retained.” It found a host of errors:

  • We manually compared the project description and project status to the number of jobs reported. This resulted in 324 questioned awards.
  • We reviewed contracts and grants that have expended at least $500,000 but have reported zero jobs. This resulted in 473 questioned awards.
  • We reviewed awards that would be paying less than minimum wage per each job retained
  • or created, to determine whether recipients are over-reporting the number of jobs retained or created. This resulted in 1,773 questioned awards.
  • We reviewed the previous two quarters and compared them with reports from the first quarter of 2011 to identify cumulative reporting, which is not allowed by OMB. This resulted in 258 questioned awards.
  • We compared data from the third quarter of 2009—the quarter when cumulative reporting was used—to the first quarter of 2011 to identify job numbers that may have had a slight increase of five or fewer jobs retained or created. This resulted in seven questioned awards.
  • We reviewed projects that received multiple awards—most often one loan and one grant—to determine if they reported the number of jobs retained or created twice rather than once. This resulted in 123 questioned awards.

The IG report recommends strengthening tools to ensure the accuracy of USDA’s stimulus jobs data. The Department acknowledged its shortcomings, and will work to remedy reporting shortfalls.

But the report also raises concerns about the accuracy of stimulus jobs data reported to date. The inability to properly assess the measure’s chief objective – increasing employment – could undermine observers’ ability to gauge its effectiveness.

Read the full report here:

USDA IG report on stimulus jobs reporting