Thursday, December 03, 2009

Inaccuracies from the White House Highlight the Importance of Effective Evaluation

Has the federal stimulus program worked? Unfortunately, an objective monitor of the situation, the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, asserts that White House claims regarding the numbers of jobs created may not be accurate (as The New York Times, as well as our Pioneer Press and StarTribune reported on November 20).

According to the Times, the 640,000 jobs “saved or created”, as reported by the White House, could not be verified. “The 640,000 figure, announced by the White House with some fanfare last month, came from reports filed by recipients of the stimulus money, many of which have been shown to be inaccurate or overstated.” The Times further stated: “A series of embarrassing reports – of raises being counted as new jobs, of jobs claimed in Congressional districts that do not exist, of school districts claiming to have saved the jobs of more teachers than they employ – may have ended up undermining confidence in the stimulus program.”

Representative David Obey, a Wisconsin Democrat, opined: “Credibility counts in government, and stupid mistakes like this undermine it.”

Representative Obey understands an old Latin expression which many public officials do not recognize, to their detriment: Falsus in unum, falsus in omnia – which in today’s world could essentially translate as “if you make one mistake or spin one thing incorrectly, everything you say is considered inaccurate”.

Credibility counts in all sectors of society. We need transparency as well. The erroneous White House assertions about the effects of the stimulus bill illustrate the need for effective evaluation and understanding of our public and private programs. In these economic times, with government budgets stressed to the maximum, all of us who devote ourselves to efforts for the betterment of our communities deserve to know what works, what does not work, and how we can spend our tax dollars and charitable contributions as cost-effectively as possible.

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