Vice President Joe Biden was supposed to be Barack Obama’s “sheriff” on the stimulus, watchdogging the nearly trillion dollar spending spree that was supposed to get the US economy going again. “Nobody messes with Joe,” the American people were told.
Three years later the Obama administration says that out of the huge sum just $11.1 million was misspent. But an investigation by the Washington Guardian found that Sheriff Joe must have been asleep on the job.
The government’s fiscal watchdogs have identified more than $5.8 billion in problematic stimulus spending, a figure that dwarfs the election-year statistics the Obama administration is using to tout the integrity of the president’s signature economic recovery program, a Washington Guardian review of investigative reports has found.
The problems uncovered in hundreds of federal audits and investigations range from estimated millions in Agriculture Department funds for the rural poor that went to pay for prohibited homes with swimming pools to millions more that went to construction firms that did shoddy weatherization work or were later barred from government contracting because of criminal activities.
The tally calculated by the Washington Guardian so far accounts for about 2.4 percent of the $243.6 billion in President Obama’s $830 billion stimulus program that went to direct spending, such as grants and loans. The figure is expected rise as the inspectors general at the 29 federal agencies that got funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act pursue more than 1,900 open criminal investigations and hundreds more audits.
The audits by the inspectors general contrast with the more rosy assessment offered by the Obama administration. From a debating Vice President Joe Biden to White House surrogates on the campaign trail, officials have been using narrowly cast statistics to convince voters that precious few of their tax dollars were wasted in the effort to revitalize the economy.
One of their favorite figures is $11.1 million, the amount the U.S. Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board says comes from court records of those stimulus recipients already convicted specifically of the crime of fraud through June. It amounts to a micro-fraction of one percent of the money spent so far on stimulus grants and loans. “The Recovery Act has been responsibly implemented with so far low levels of fraud, waste, and abuse,” the White House says on its Web site.
Read the whole thing to get a flavor of some of the fraud. And note this.
White House officials declined repeated requests for on-the-record comment. But in private conversations, administration officials acknowledged the numbers they have been using on the campaign trail, while technically accurate, were narrowly cast and did not capture all the spending problems identified by inspectors general.
“We know there are problems out there, and they will grow before all spending ends, but we picked the numbers that made the best case we could for the election,” said one official directly involved in stimulus issues, who spoke only on condition of anonymity.
Barack Obama surely approved of that message.