Congress to Investigate Fake Districts

Amanda Carpenter broke the news Tuesday that “The government Web site that promised to show exactly where the $787 billion in stimulus spending was going to ‘create or save’ jobs is allocating billions of tax dollars to hundreds of congressional districts that don’t exist.”

RecoveryGovResearchers at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity found 440 “phantom districts” listed on, consuming $6.4 billion and creating or saving nearly 30,000 jobs. Their findings are listed HERE.

For example, shows 12 districts, using up more than $2.7 billion, in Washington, D.C, which only has one congressional district. [Actually, it has none. – jhj] also shows 2,893.9 jobs created with $194,537,372 in stimulus funding in New Hampshire’s 00 congressional district. But, there is no such thing.

The site also shows $1,471,518 going to New Hampshire’s 6th congressional district, $1,033,809 to the 4th congressional district and $124,774 to the 27th congressional district. In fact, New Hampshire only has two congressional districts; inviting confusion about where the money listed for the 00, 4th, 6th and 27th districts is going.

After being beat over the head with this on the blogs, Twitter, and the late-night comic shows, the White House admitted error and has said it’ll put out a more accurate list, while muttering something about distractions.

Aside from the obvious 57 states joke (which an Instapundit reader beat me to), I’ve dismissed this story as mildly amusing but no big deal.

It seems, however, that the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is less than amused and will hold hearings on the matter. Others in Congress were also upset — and not just the usual suspects.

The errors raised the ire of Rep. Dave Obey, D-Wisconsin, and chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. On Monday, he said the mistakes “are outrageous and the administration owes itself, the Congress and every American a commitment to work night and day to correct the ludicrous mistakes.”

“Credibility counts in government, and stupid mistakes like this undermine it. We’ve got too many serious problems in this country to let that happen,” Obey said.

While I agree in principle, the reality is that large bureaucracies continually make incredibly boneheaded mistakes of this variety. The key is transparency, which lets interested parties quickly spot problems and get them corrected — as happened in this case.

It is, however, refreshing to see Congress investigate something that is actually under their purview and to do so with a president of the same political party that controls both Houses.  That’s how the system is supposed to work but, alas, frequently doesn’t.

FILED UNDER: Bureaucracy, Congress, US Politics, , , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. some critter says:

    I think this article could have been written from a “triumph of transparency” angle.

    The Obama administration was right to push more data to the web, and let’s reinforce the effort. We should have citizen review of these expenditures.

    I believe that the cash for clunkers website showed similar errors, cars traded in which should have had too high an MPG to qualify.

    Now the sad thing would be if the transparency proved to be more Candidate Obama than President Obama.

  2. some critter says:

    Sorry, missed the buried lede 😉

  3. Aside from the obvious 57 states joke (which an Instapundit reader beat me to), I’ve dismissed this story as mildly amusing but no big deal.

    That billions are squandered with a complete lack of transparency is mildly amusing and no big deal, well, it is hard to think that the Republic isn’t doomed. At the very least, this is yet another powerful argument for smaller, limited government.

  4. JKB says:

    Could it be that somehow the 2010 census apportionment was accidently used?

    Of course, the real “scandal” is the lack of interest in accuracy until this took on a life of its own. A bit of competence and management controls would go a long way on issue like this. Reminds me of during the campaign when the Obama people couldn’t be bothered to run checks to see if online contributors actually existed much less citizens and legally eligible to contribute.

  5. Rick Almeida says:

    That billions are squandered with a complete lack of transparency is mildly amusing

    And yet, it is transparency that lets these mistakes be discovered and investigated.

  6. JKB says:

    I just realized there is a pattern here.

    Fake contributors
    Fake jobs saved/created
    Fake congressional districts

    What do all these have in common?

  7. some critter says:

    What do all these have in common?


  8. Wayne says:

    There are problems with having federal government running massive programs. One they are inefficient and have massive waste or misuse of funds. To counter it they put together massive oversight and bureaucracy in attempt to counter this. However it results in even greater overhead, inefficiencies and waste. There was an article recently with the massive problems they have running Medicaid.

    Now they want to take over 1/6 of the economy with their healthcare plan.

  9. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    No Critter they are all Obama errors. I guess Obama does not think anyone will check his numbers and when they do he calls it a distraction. Like in “pay not attention to the fact I am lying”. If this had come out of the Bush administration the media would be blaring the information continuously. Obama gets a pass. Why? There is transparency all right. Some of us see right through this communist liar.

  10. Steve Verdon says:

    Tell me again about all the sturm und drang over the AIG bonuses?

    And it doesn’t stop there. President Obama has his $750,000,000,000 stimulus package. If there is only 1% waste, fraud and abuse (a laughably small number given how fast the government is going to try and spend it—think of the money for Katrina aid that went to strip club trips) that is still $7,500,000,000 that is wasted. That number is 45.5x the size of the AIG bonuses. Where is the outrage?

    My only conclusion is that most people are innumerate. When a number gets too big they just can’t grasp the magnitude of that number. Here is one way of trying to get a grasp on the magnitude of these numbers. If you took 170,000,000,000 one dollar bills and stacked them one on top of each other (not end-to-end) it would be 11,537 miles high. If you took 750,000,000,000 one dollar bills and did the same thing it would be 50,899 miles long, or it could go around the earth twice at the equator. Why people are worried about a stack of one dollar bills that is only 11 miles high beats me.

    Funny how the White House loved that distraction.


    It seems, however, that the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee is less than amused and will hold hearings on the matter. Others in Congress were also upset — and not just the usual suspects.

    I’m confused…are these leeches upset because they’ve been caught facilitating theft?

  11. Ralph Cramden says:

    With uncle Joe in charge the ‘errors’ are to be expected.

  12. some critter says:

    Zelsdorf, someone of the other stripe might mention “Madoff errors” or more pervasively “Rating Agency errors.”

    The fallacy, from the right or the left, is that cheaters are only on the other side.

  13. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Critter, why is it you want to change the subject? I am willing to discuss Madoff if we can have similar outcomes. Prison. Obama calls accounting an inexact science. In the world I live it, it is pretty damned exact. No wonder the people who work for and with Obama seem to have tax problems. How much longer do we have to put up with this BS? Even if his agenda is to socialize this country, this man is inept.

  14. some critter says:

    Zelsdorf, you might have one found one answer to JKB’s question, but I think I found the broader one.

    People sometimes cheat. It’s true in business, and in government, and in religion, and in sports. That’s why we have rules, and checks, and balances.

    This website thing is great for that. It adds a new check.

    (We have seen cheating defense contractors, but we don’t usually say that is a reason to have no defense. It is a reason to check.)

  15. JKB says:

    People sometimes cheat. It’s true in business, and in government, and in religion, and in sports. That’s why we have rules, and checks, and balances.

    That is why there are these things called management controls. Something of which the Obama organization seems profoundly ignorant.

    The three items I mentioned have much in common. Obama, false data to benefit the Obama organization, many of the same Obama organization people, but the most profound thing they have in common is a distinctive unwillingness to introduce even basic controls and data checking. Even the most inept website designer would have put in data verification to stop the entry of invalid data such as non-existent congressional districts. That would be easy since there is a fixed list of valid data that doesn’t overlap.

    Those checks and balances you mention are the common items missing in the items I listed. Which indicates incompetence and an inability to learn from past failures or malicious intent.

    I’m sure if the Obama people are fuzzy on management controls, they could hire someone who’s actually run a viable enterprise to teach them.

  16. Matt says:

    Oh for god’s sake you’re freaking out cause a few people are dumb and didn’t double check the district # before entering that aspect of the project. 70 errors out of well over hundreds of thousands of entries is well within the margin of error in even your precious private industry (oh the stories I could tell). We should be happy that the data is even available for us to scrutinize (as it should be) and support more openness in general. Now if the congressional investigation does find fraud then those involved should be named shamed and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

  17. Roark says:

    If Washington was a private business in which the CEO had to sign off on filings with the SEC, Barack Obama would be in a cell next to Jeffrey Skilling.

    When business does it people go to prison.

    When government does it there is a lame excuse about transparency.

    The money Enron lost was nowhere near 1 Trillion.

    Who else thinks this is jacked up?

  18. Shannon Love says:

    The major concern here is that the errors on the website didn’t result from the people setting up the web site but rather from the source data itself.

    It’s quite possible that the website admins faithfully reproduced the data that was given them. If so, that raises troubling questions about the general accounting for the stimulus. If the errors are not superficial in the source data, it suggest the entire accounting system is a train wreck.

    In any case, the fact that they let such glaring errors slip through suggest that is nothing but a marketing gimmick. We shouldn’t be surprised but it just goes to show that Obama thinks his supporters are stupid.

  19. J says:

    You must think we are terribly naive to believe that the dems investigating the dems will lead to a good conclusion for the people of the USA. We have seen how well the ethics committee investigates, and clears, the democrat members of congress. Don’t insult our intelligence.

  20. jsallison says:

    FDR considered packing SCOTUS with ideologically agreeable justices so packing the nation with a couple extra, presumably democrat party leaning states, and a random sprinkling of likewise sympathetic faux districts is just good politics. It might be a sign of sloppy work but the slop always seems to fall in favor of the same folk.

  21. Anonymous Coward says:

    For all of you talking about how transparent the administration is and how good it is that they are fixing and investigating their errors, consider this:

    Because of the very fact that the website is so bad, is so obviously wrong, it offers zero insight into what the stimulus is really doing. If there are errors in the Colorado 00th and 42nd districts, what about the 1st? might as well be hooked to a random number generator. Anything any unscrupulous person wished to hide could be hidden, and would not show it. This isn’t transparent at all.

    And it’s not the thought that counts. It doesn’t matter if the administration means well, they promised transparency and haven’t delivered.

  22. Angelo Rombola says:

    I think most of the commenters above are missing the bigger picture.These are not “ERRORS.” They are veiled attempts to hide the true disbursement of $7+ Billion Dollars (of our money!) Where did it really go? Who got it and How Much? ACORN, SEIU et al? Intelligent Americans want to know!

  23. Eric Holder says:

    We here at the Justice Department will be getting right on this very important issue, but only after we provide an impartial Federal trial of the guilty, and non-religiously motivated extremist known as “KSM”.

    But first there are some troubling reports of some potential domestic terrorists loitering about a place called the “VFW” which the Justice Department needs to check.