Last month, we noted that tracking stimulus spending at federal agencies was a job worthy of Sherlock Holmes. Different agencies count their stimulus spending in different ways, while the government’s catchall site Recovery.gov appears to use out-of-date and even contradictory information.
The latest example is stimulus spending at the Social Security Administration. On Wednesday, we noticed that the SSA, unlike most federal agencies, doesn’t post on its Web site the total amount of money awarded to it under the stimulus bill. After several phone calls, we were told that the total amount was $1.09 billion.
But when we cross-referenced that number with the figures posted on Recovery.gov, we noticed a slight difference: According to Recovery.gov, the SSA has already paid out $13.014 billion in stimulus bucks—some 13 times more than the SSA told us it had been awarded under the bill.
When asked about the discrepancy, Dorothy Clark, an SSA spokeswoman, suggested that Recovery.gov may have included in its calculations $13 billion in one-time $250 payments to Social Security beneficiaries. The SSA didn’t include the $13 billion in its own calculations, Clark explained, because the money in fact came from the Treasury Department, not the SSA—regardless of what Recovery.gov might say.
Clark didn’t know where Recovery.gov gets its numbers. So we gave them a ring. “Whatever information we have comes from the agency [in question],” said Ed Pound, director of communications for the Recovery Transparency and Accountability Board, which runs Recovery.gov. “We got this from them.” Asked whether the $13 billion in payments ought to be listed under the Treasury Department’s spending, Pound said that payment “is listed under SSA. If that needs to be refined in some way, they should be doing it. That’s their job.”
(ProPublicacalled the Treasury Department to get its reaction, but we got no response.)
Given the uncertainty around the figures on Recovery.gov, ProPublica asked the SSA whether it could provide its own version of how much stimulus money the agency has not just been allocated but actually paid out—a figure available (though apparently not accurate) on Recovery.gov.
Clark, however, responded that the SSA would not provide those numbers. She said that ProPublicawas welcome to file a request under the Freedom of Information Act—a time-consuming process, and one that usually requires paying a fee. We’ve filed the FOIA, and we’ll post the figures once we obtain them.