Did stimulus money go to 'phantom' districts in Minnesota?

  • Article by: BOB VON STERNBERG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 19, 2009 - 6:01 AM

Recovery.gov reported that $6.4 billion was sent to 700 districts, including 11 in Minnesota, that don't exist.

Minnesota's 27th Congressional District has snared just over $3 million in federal stimulus money, five times as much as the 57th District has gotten.

One problem: Neither district exists -- except on Recovery.gov, the Obama administration's website that tracks the flow of stimulus cash.

Beyond Minnesota's eight actual congressional districts, which have gotten the lion's share of the money, the website lists 11 phantom districts that supposedly were awarded more than $7 million in grants.

An official at the stimulus' oversight body told ABC News, which first reported the errors, that nonexistent districts were listed because some people receiving federal funds "don't know what congressional district they live in, so they appear to be just throwing in any number" on forms submitted to the government.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty took aim at the errors Tuesday, tweeting: "Fed spending out of control -- it appears to go places that don't exist. MN has 8 cong districts; Recovery.gov says we have a 57th."

The errors weren't just in Minnesota. According to ABC, administration officials say they found 700 mistakenly credited phantom districts for amounts that totaled $6.4 billion, while supposedly creating or saving nearly 30,000 jobs.

Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, wrote the $787 billion economic stimulus bill that Congress passed in February. He has been one of the recovery effort's most ardent supporters, but earlier this week blasted the errors.

"Credibility counts in government, and stupid mistakes like this undermine it," Obey said in a statement. "The inaccuracies on Recovery.gov that have come to light are outrageous, and the administration owes itself, the Congress and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes."

When Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., questioned administration officials about the mistakes, Earl Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, replied in a letter that he can't completely vouch for the numbers.

"Your letter specifically asks if I am able to certify that the number of jobs reported as created/saved on Recovery.gov is accurate and auditable. No, I am not able to make this certification," Devaney wrote, in a letter provided to ABC News.

Appearing on "The Daily Show" Tuesday, Vice President Joe Biden offered this defense: "Look, the bottom line is that we do check [data sent to the federal government]. But what happens is the initial report comes in cold. We don't -- of the 130,000 reports that come in, as to what they did with the money, we're now going through it."

Staff writer Eric Roper and the Washington Post contributed to this report. Bob Von Sternberg • 612-673-7184

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