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Tuesday, November 17, 2009 and Dubious Statistics

In chapter 15, we note that a major role of bureaucracy is to gather and publish statistics. It is a difficult job, and sometimes the bureaucracy makes mistakes. Consider, for example, measurements of the effects of economic stimulus legislation. ABC reports:

Here's a stimulus success story: In Arizona's 15th congressional district, 30 jobs have been saved or created with just $761,420 in federal stimulus spending. At least that's what the Web site set up by the Obama administration to track the $787 billion stimulus says. There's one problem, though: There is no 15th congressional district in Arizona; the state has only eight districts. And ABC News has found many more entries for projects like this in places that are incorrectly identified.
Other news organizations have found additional problems.

The Chicago Tribune:

More than $4.7 million in federal stimulus aid so far has been funneled to schools in North Chicago, and state and federal officials say that money has saved the jobs of 473 teachers. Problem is, the district employs only 290 teachers. "That other number, I don't know where that came from," said Lauri Hakanen, superintendent of North Chicago Community Unit Schools District 187.

The Boston Globe:

While Massachusetts recipients of federal stimulus money collectively report 12,374 jobs saved or created, a Globe review shows that number is wildly exaggerated. Organizations that received stimulus money miscounted jobs, filed erroneous figures, or claimed jobs for work that has not yet started.

The Sacramento Bee:

Up to one-fourth of the 110,000 jobs reported as saved by federal stimulus money in California probably never were in danger, a Bee review has found. California State University officials reported late last week that they saved more jobs with stimulus money than the number of jobs saved in Texas – and in 44 other states. In a required state report to the federal government, the university system said the $268.5 million it received in stimulus funding through October allowed it to retain 26,156 employees. That total represents more than half of CSU's statewide work force. However, university officials confirmed Thursday that half their workers were not going to be laid off without the stimulus dollars. "This is not really a real number of people," CSU spokeswoman Clara Potes-Fellow said. "It's like a budget number."

The Associated Press:

The AP reviewed a sample of federal contracts, not all 9,000 reported to date, and discovered errors in one in six jobs credited to the $787 billion stimulus program - or 5,000 of the 30,000 jobs claimed so far. Even in its limited review, the AP found job counts that were more than 10 times as high as the actual number of paid positions; jobs credited to the stimulus program that were counted two and sometimes more than four times; and other jobs that were credited to stimulus spending when none was produced.