Several watchdog groups are blowing the whistle on President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus plan – showing billions of taxpayer dollars designated for zip codes and congressional districts that don’t exist in the United States.
New Mexico Watchdog scoured recovery.gov, a website the Obama administration launched to track billions of dollars of stimulus funds under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The group compared zip codes reported at recovery.gov against the U.S. Postal Service’s zip code locator.
“The website, recovery.gov, reported $26.5 million going to 10 New Mexico congressional districts that do not exist,” the group reports. “Those millions were credited with creating 61.5 jobs.”
Additionally, $131,139 in funds reported for New Mexico were designated zip codes matching DuPont, Wash.; Richland, Wash.; and Gales Creek, Ore.
While the recovery website shows $373,874 was spent in zip code 97052, the group found that zero jobs were created. Likewise, $100,000 to zip code 86705 resulted in no additional jobs, and $36,218 to zip code 87258 purportedly created five jobs.
“None of these zip codes exist in New Mexico, or anywhere else, for that matter,” Jim Scarantino of New Mexico Watchdog writes. “All told, we have found over $27 million dollars that has been reported as going to either nonexistent Congressional districts or nonexistent zip codes.”
The report is just one of a flurry of similar investigations by watchdog groups across the nation.
West Virginia Watchdog reported $28 million in stimulus funds for that state listed as going to four phantom zip codes: 26661, 26551, 24913 and 2119.
Steven Allen of West Virginia Watchdog revealed three other zip codes actually belonged to Virginia, not West Virginia. The group also reported that the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act added eight fictional congressional districts to the state: the 54th, 9th, 4th, 6th, 12th, 13th and 00.
Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, reportedly told West Virginia Watchdog, “People make errors, and we’ve found people are making errors in these reports. Our job is data integrity, not data quality.”
Likewise, Nebraska Watchdog reported, “If you live in Nebraska zips codes 68129, 69631, 69660 and 32202, you’ve seen over $2.2 million dollars in stimulus funds poured into your backyard. Unfortunately Nebraska Watchdog has also learned that three of those zips codes don’t exist, and the fourth, 32202, is several states away.”
Scott St. Clair, a watchdog at the Evergreen Freedom Foundation in Washington state, reported that nearly $3.5 million in federal stimulus funds for that state have been designated for zip codes that either don’t exist or belong to other states such as Alaska, Virginia and Massachusetts. He conducted a manual review of 488 Washington zip codes and found 11 incorrect or nonexistent listings.
Old Dominion Watchdog’s Paige Winfield found 14 phantom zip codes that the Obama administration website listed for Virginia reportedly received $9.5 million in federal stimulus money. Of the zip codes listed for that state, seven do not exist and an additional seven are located in different states such as New Mexico, West Virginia and Virginia.
The Capital Research Center’s Freedom Foundation of Minnesota found more than $700,000 in stimulus spending marked for Minnesota is listed for three zip codes that do not exist. The group also found nearly $1.2 million of stimulus funds in Minnesota listed under zip codes in Kansas, Michigan, Missouri and North Dakota.
The Independence Institute discovered millions in Colorado-marked stimulus funds going to nonexistent zip codes or zip codes. According to the report, a zip code corresponding to Shiprock, N.M., has received $5,267,621 in funds designated for Colorado while $1.5 million has been spent in zip code 50901 – a place that does not exist in the Postal Service database.
Recovery.gov explains that its funding maps are based on state codes provided by funding recipients.
“If a recipient in Maryland mistakenly entered MA as the location for the Recovery project, funds to that project are allocated to the state of Massachusetts, not Maryland,” it states.
In a November 2009 report, the Government Accountability Office also noted, “GAO’s fieldwork and initial review and analysis of recipient data from www.recovery.gov, indicate that there are a range of significant reporting and quality issues that need to be addressed.”
According to the GAO, 3,978 reports showed no dollar amount received or expended, but included more than 50,000 jobs created or retained. Also, 9,247 reports showed no jobs but included expended amounts approaching $1 billion.
Phantom districts, zip codes across U.S.
In November, the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity released an extensive state-by-state report showing that every state in the United States listed phantom districts.
In all, watchdogs found $6.4 billion designated for 440 non-existent districts in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., and four American territories. According to watchdog reports, days after a report on the phantom congressional districts was published, Recovery.gov began listing the funding under “unassigned congressional district.”
An additional $375 million in grants, loans and government contracts was credited with job creation and sent to zip codes that don’t exist, according to Kansas Watchdog. The site also reports the funds created more than 400 jobs at a cost of about $800,000 each.
“Today’s news reiterates the value and importance of transparency and accountability in the federal government. In addition, it demonstrates the effectiveness of nonprofit journalism and the need for more journalists investigating our government,” said Jason Stverak, president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. “These imaginary ZIP codes are not necessarily a sign of taxpayer abuse but it does make the U.S. taxpayer wary of trusting our elected officials. We urge all of our watchdogs and citizen journalists around the nation to delve into their own state stimulus funding information and report any errors to Watchdog.org.”