A federal government Web site tracking spending and job creation via the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act listed more than $1 billion coming to Nevada, including more than $7.7 million for the state’s 32nd, 22nd, 9th and 25th congressional districts.
The only problem? Those districts don’t exist.
The errors on Recovery.gov are creating headaches for the administration of President Barack Obama and giving critics fodder to lambaste the economic stimulus law.
"I think it is a serious problem," said James Scarantino, a former attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union in New Mexico who was among the first to highlight the errors online.
"The president said his administration was going to track every last penny of the stimulus. We’re now into the second or third round of reports, and every one of them has massive errors in it."
Scarantino made posts about apparent nonexistent congressional districts in New Mexico.
ABC News did a story this week highlighting similar errors nationwide related to the reporting of hundreds of millions of dollars.
White House officials say the mistakes cover a tiny fraction of the nearly 13 million data entries from 130,000 contributors, but they acknowledge that people are right to be concerned, and they say they are working to correct problems.
"Some filers, working with the new system, punched in the wrong congressional district, and some just got the data wrong," G. Edward DeSeve, a special adviser to Obama on stimulus implementation, wrote in response to the reported mistakes. "We fully agree with those who find the mistakes in the data frustrating — and we’ve been working with the Recovery Board to find the mistakes, and fix them."
In Nevada, the biggest chunk of funding in question was more than $6.3 million going to the nonexistent 32nd congressional district. The state has only the 1st, 2nd and 3rd districts.
While the 32nd district isn’t real, there were $6.3 million in grants awarded to the Reno-Tahoe International Airport Authority for a ramp paving project.
Airport spokesman Brian Kulpin said the paving project is indeed real.
"We did get a $6.3 million grant. We were happy to get it," he said. "We had the plan ready and waiting on the shelf."
He said the project is under way and has created 12 jobs. It could create more before it is complete.
There still are no official explanations for a combined $1.4 million listed as creating nine jobs in the nonexistent 22nd, 9th and 25th districts.
A White House source said a grant of $754,400 listed in Nevada’s nonexistent 22nd district is probably a typo. It matches a Department of Energy grant that went to New York’s real 22nd district, which includes Ithaca and Poughkeepsie.
An award of $620,000 to the nonexistent 9th district probably is a grant of that amount to the Nevada Department of Corrections in the real 2nd district, the source said.
The $15,654 listed along with the nonexistent 25th district of Nevada still hasn’t been linked to a real recipient, although the amount matches a sub-award to a National Park Service grant that went to Massachusetts.
Recovery.gov credits the stimulus with creating or saving 5,667 jobs in Nevada.
A state tracking Web site puts the jobs figure at 5,079.
The federal site was updated Wednesday and moved money and job figures attributed to nonexistent districts into an "unassigned congressional district" category.
Nevada’s two congressional Republicans are critical of the stimulus legislation and said the errors are indicative of bigger problems.
"The inaccuracies of Recovery.gov would be laughable if the stimulus funds on this site did not represent taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Dean Heller, R-Nev. "The rush to prove the stimulus is working has only underscored the ineffectiveness of this legislation. The administration should take its responsibility to the American public more seriously, especially when people’s jobs are at stake."
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., another critic of the stimulus, shared Heller’s sentiment.
"In the time it took the Administration to spend a trillion dollars and create fake congressional districts with fake jobs, Nevada’s unemployment rate went from 10 (percent) to 13.5 (percent). Nevada has real congressional districts that need real jobs," Ensign wrote in response to questions about the mistakes.
Others said the errors, while regrettable, aren’t evidence the money has been lost or misspent or that the stimulus is ineffective.
"We are going through the reports with a fine-tooth comb, identifying mistakes, and working with filers to correct them," DeSeve said.
"However, no criticism has come close to discrediting the larger and most important point: that the Recovery Act has helped save or create more than 1 million jobs across America and across various sectors of the economy."
All three of Nevada’s congressional Democrats, Sen. Harry Reid and Reps. Dina Titus and Shelley Berkley, said the errors should be fixed but stand behind the effectiveness of the stimulus.
"While we know the Recovery Act has created or saved thousands of Nevada jobs based on information provided by state agencies, clearly there are significant errors on the federal Web site that need to be fixed," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.
"Our office has been working with the administration to help them resolve the matter quickly so Nevadans have the clearest possible picture about how the Recovery Act is working for our state," Summers said.
Titus spokesman Andrew Stoddard said, "The administration is undertaking an unprecedented effort to account for spending through the Recovery Act and is committed to a transparent process. It is unfortunate that there have been errors in the process that undermine this effort."
"Congresswoman Berkley is proud that the stimulus has created real jobs in Nevada, but she was certainly surprised to learn some were credited as being located in phantom districts," spokesman David Cherry said. "She certainly expects these mistakes will be corrected so that we have an accurate picture of how the Recovery Act has helped Las Vegas and other Nevada communities."
Contact reporter Benjamin Spillman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-477-3861.Nevada page on Recovery.gov