What’s Transparency Without Accuracy?
Uh oh. News media and bloggers have been reporting all week about federal stimulus dollars going to fictitious congressional districts. The website Watchdog.org reported that, nationwide, the fictitious districts are receiving $6.4 billion in stimulus money.
I did some reporting of my own over at Policy Pulse, the Show-Me Institute’s news site, and found that four fake congressional districts had cropped up in Missouri to receive more than $900,000. KMOX picked up on the story here.
Was it fraud? Not really. The Recovery.gov website has a little data integrity problem. Federal grant and contract recipients are responsible for making their own reports of project progress. After a 20-day review period, the self-reported information is posted online. Apparently, federal agency employees can only alert a recipient that reporting errors exist; only recipients can fix them.
The reason we’re seeing so many fake districts is that recipients are required to choose a congressional district from a drop down menu. They can choose between a range from 00 to 99. And it looks like some recipients just guessed.
I looked through the data on Tuesday,which you can download in raw form here (scroll to the bottom of the page), and although fake congressional districts make for good headlines, I think there’s a bigger issue.
Contract and grant recipients aren’t required to report a project name, description, or status. In fact, for Missouri alone, 2,258 grant recipients and 76 contract recipients left all three fields blank. Yet only 18 of those were flagged for correction.
If Recovery.gov is really supposed to promote government transparency and accountability, why not require that federal stimulus recipients report what they’re actually doing with the money?