Thursday, November 19, 2009

The audacity of

Whose fault is it when a government website reports fake sunny information on an epic scale?

According to Vice President Joe Biden, it's the general public who submitted the information to, which purports to show the specific effects of the stimulus package.

"There was bad civics classes for those" who reported the data, Biden said. "They had to fill out a form, what district are you in, and there was no such district."
Ed Pound, spokesman for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board which operates, had the same thing to say:

"We report what the recipients submit to us. Some recipients clearly don't know what congressional district they live in, so they just throw in a number for their congressional district."

To recap: The government has an ambitious website to track exactly where they are slinging "stimulus" dollars - a naked attempt at manifesting congressional pet projects - and list exactly how many jobs have been saved. When this website is shown to have major flaws - in this case listing districts that don't exist - it's the fault of the people who filled out the forms incorrectly. In other words, stupid members of the public sent in forms filled out in crayon and government employees aren't responsible for posting it.

Did anyone notice that last leap of faith? employees can't be bothered to check the authenticity of the information, even for something as simple as seeing if Arizona has 15 congressmen or only eight.

What's been left out of the discussion is just how dumb the public must be to fill out those forms incorrectly. On Nov. 2 the Wall Street Journal posted a vanguard story on the issue.

Paula Moore-Kirby, 42 years old, had less trouble with the Web site, but couldn’t work out how to answer the question about how many jobs her father had created or saved. She couldn’t leave it blank, either, she said. After several calls to a helpline for recipients she came away with the impression that she would hear back if there was a problem with her response, and have a chance to correct it. So with 15 minutes to go before the reporting deadline, she sent in her answer: nine jobs, because her father helped nine members of the Corps to work.

“You could fill out the form in 10 minutes, but we were trying to fill out the form correctly,” she said, guessing that she spent up to eight hours on it in total.

In short, a shoe store owner got so frustrated with the forms he asked his daughter to help. They had been selling boots to the Army Corps of Engineers for years, but since nine pairs of boots were bought with $889.60 of stimulus money, they were required to list how many jobs were saved for The question was hard to answer and Paula ended up writing nine - for the nine boots purchased.

It doesn't sound like we have a stupid public bumbling through simple worksheets. It sounds like we have an awful web of red tape and cumbersome forms that paints an optimistic view of the stimulus plan.

Thanks to Greg Mankiw for the WSJ link and the chart.

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