Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Good Guys Lie, Too

There is a massive construction project on I-15 just north of where I live, adding carpool lanes to one of the most crowded and dangerous freeways in the San Diego area. This project has been ongoing for more than four years and has not gotten any bigger during 2009. In fact, work has actually slowed a bit the past year. What has happened is that new signs have appeared in the construction zones telling us that the project is being funded by the “Stimulus Bill of 2009.”

That’s interesting, since it is not a new project and is not employing anyone who wasn’t already at work. The current administration would have us believe that this is part of the “jobs saved” in the number jobs that have been “created or saved” by the stimulus bill but there are a few problems with that claim. The California DOT published a list of projects that were scheduled for the axe due to budget cuts in 2008 and another such list in early 2009. The I-15 carpool lane project was not on either list. This is a very high priority project, and almost all other construction would be cancelled before this one got axed.

The last time I read claims for jobs “created or saved” by the stimulus the number was a paltry 640,000, and even that number was being challenged since quite a few of the jobs were in districts which don’t exist. The administration was blithely ignoring the criticism, saying that there were errors in reporting the district numbers; casually disregarding the suggestion that there might be errors (or dishonesty?) in reporting the numbers of jobs. Everybody got the job numbers right, and all the foul-ups were in the district numbers.

Now, suddenly, the number of jobs “created or saved” is two million.

Holy crap! How did the number more than triple overnight? Well, when the accounting rules don’t provide the numbers that you feel you need, change the accounting rules. It works for the financial industry, so why not use it in government? According to AP,

It is also becoming more difficult to obtain an accurate count of stimulus jobs. Those who receive stimulus money can now credit jobs to the program even if they were never in jeopardy of being lost, according to new rules outlined by the White House's Office of Management and Budget.

The new rules, reported Monday by the Internet site ProPublica, allow any job paid for with stimulus money to count as a position saved or created.

That’s why the I-15 carpool lane project has those signs about stimulus funding. The workers on that project, who have been working on that project for more than four years and who have never been in danger of layoff, are now being counted as “jobs saved by the stimulus bill.”

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