The Recovery Board is pushing back against concerns that its stimulus website attributes millions of dollars to nonexistent ZIP codes .
While one watchdog group alleged Wednesday that more than $375 million in stimulus funds recorded on Recovery.gov went to "phantom" locales, federal officials tracking those funds said "human errors" during the early reporting process are actually to blame.
"The material was put in by the recipients [and] was transferred from the recipient reports on the website to these charts," Arvidson said. "Just because there are some typographical errors in ZIP codes doesn't mean this money is disappearing somehow."
The latest dispute over the veracity of stimulus data began earlier this week, after a collection of bloggers noticed on Recovery.gov that many of its ZIP codes were suspect.
New Mexico Watchdog, one of the groups to first report errors in Recovery.gov's congressional district breakdown, calculated that about $500,000 went to locales that the Postal Service's website did not recognize. The group also determined that more than $130,000 in stimulus dollars were attributed to New Mexico on a ZIP code chart, but that those ZIP codes were actually located in other states.
A closer look at every ZIP code by the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity revealed the problem was more widespread, affecting more than $375 million spread across all but 12 states.
But Recovery Board officials stress the money has not gone missing. They said the totals were corroborated by other reports on the website, which break stimulus dollars down by ZIP code as well as project.
Arvidson explained that only about 400 of the more than 131,000 ZIP codes on Recovery.gov are listed incorrectly. She also stressed other forms on Recovery.gov show the money is neither lost nor improperly spent.
"This money is reported on the website; it takes no genius to download the files and find the projects," Arvidson said. "The money is not missing; the money has been reported. These are clerical errors. This is much ado about nothing."
Nevertheless, skepticism pervades this week because of a series of previous errors on Recovery.gov's state-by-state breakdown of stimulus funds. Watchdogs noticed earlier this year that many of the congressional districts said to have received money are not real, a revelation that led lawmakers to demand the White House improve its data-collection standards.
The Recovery Board plans to implement a few measures to address those concerns ahead of its January reporting deadline, Arvidson told The Hill. The forms themselves will be limited to reflect congressional districts and ZIP codes within a state, rather than leaving a blank for the user to fill it in manually — a change that should address the "human errors" fueling debate this week, she said.