Red Dirt Report: Oklahoma’s Phantom Districts

Nov 18, 2009
In The News

With federal stimulus funds pouring into Oklahoma, we here at Oklahoma Watchdog were curious if all that stimulus spending – $787 billion to be precise – was creating jobs here in the Sooner State.

As it turns out, a lot of the reports were faked and it appears the Obama Administration is not keeping a close eye on the reports coming from around the country and monitoring where all those billions in taxpayer dollars are actually going.

Here in Oklahoma, according to Recovery.gov, the government website that is supposed to track all the jobs  created by the stimulus – 1 million, according to the Obama Administration – the numbers aren’t what they seem. Many of the districts simply did not exist, including a number here in Oklahoma.

Fifteen jobs in fake Oklahoma congressional districts. Listed at Recovery.gov, there is the 51st, 25th, 6th, 18th, 00, 24th, 14th, 13th and 57th congressional districts, all of which do not exist. Oklahoma has only five congressional districts. 

U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Oklahoma City, responded to the issue with the following comment:

“I’m appalled by the recklessness and disregard this Administration has demonstrated for Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars,” Fallin said. “ Not only has their $787 billion bill failed to create jobs or strengthen the economy, but now this Administration can’t even tell us where the money actually went.

Continuing, Fallin said: “According to Recovery.gov, the self-proclaimed watch-dog for waste, fraud and abuse, $19 million worth of Stimulus projects were awarded in Oklahoma in Congressional Districts that don’t even exist.  Make no mistake about it – these aren’t ‘clerical’ errors, these mistakes are blatant violations of this Administration’s promise for transparency and accountability.  I call on this Administration to clean up the website, tell us how our taxpayer money has been spent and finally allow Congress to consider meaningful job creation measures.”

And U.S. Rep. Frank Lucas also weighed in.

“It appears as though this administration has had a rough time getting its facts straight this year,” Lucas said in an e-mail. ”We have heard mixed reports about the cost of certain legislation and now it seems they are unaware of the number of congressional districts in the country.  I hope this doesn’t signify that they would rather win the argument than get the facts right that they based their argument on.”

Continuing, Lucas wrote: “When you are talking about $800 billion of the American taxpayer’s hard-earned money, the administration needs a better plan to ensure that the money is spent properly and that there is proof of a real benefit from that money.”

Back to Recovery.gov. The site claims 8,747 jobs have been created or saved here in Oklahoma.Twelve of those jobs – worth $311,966 – were supposedly in the phantom “24th congressional district.”

The story has now grown legs. Watchdog.org has been amassing all the stories and information in an ever-growing story linked here. It’s made a number of influential websites, including The Drudge Report.

The reports on Recovery.gov are causing quite a stir in Washington. An articleWednesday at Politico.com notes how Recovery Board Chairman Earl Devaney was unable to certify whether the number of job “created or saved” by stimulus funds is accurate. Others within the administration say the inaccurate information is simply “human error.”

Peter J. Rudy, communications director for Oklahomans For Responsible Government responded to the controversy Wednesday, saying, “It more or less goes to show that the problem is in the data.”

Rudy said that while the idea of “phantom districts” is getting a lot of attention, the government needs to actually take the programs seriously, particularly when it is trying to be transparent about where the stimulus dollars are going.

“The idea of transparency is wonderful,” Rudy said. “ But it has to be more than an idea. You have to work at it. Again, the problem isn’t necessarily that stimulus money went to districts that don’t exist, it’s that the data is thrown in doubt.”

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