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Eye Opener: What to watch with the stimulus

By Ed O'Keefe

Eye Opener

Updated 10:18 a.m. ET

Happy Tuesday! (Unless you're Gannett.) The economic stimulus data continues to drip out in small bits, as the Obama administration starts to hear criticism from economists, Republicans and "good government" groups about the merits of the economic recovery program and the effectiveness of the Web site built to publicly report the jobs and spending data.

The stimulus created or saved 250,000 education jobs, according to a report (pdf) issued by the White House and the Education Department on Monday. But the report "does not address how many education jobs have been cut this year because of the recession, nor does it project how many are in jeopardy in the coming year," reports The Post's Nick Anderson.

The report suggests that without $67 billion in federal aid provided through Sept. 30 under the economic stimulus law, "state and local budgets for public schools and higher education would be hemorrhaging." Some critics say however that the federal aid just backfilled state and local funding cuts and that larger average class sizes across the country showed that many jobs were not saved.

Beyond the economic debate, other critics say the White House has thus far failed to deliver on the "unprecedented" levels of transparency Obama promised with the launch of Recovery.gov, the official economic stimulus Web site.

"This is not the 'unprecedented' level of transparency and accountability that we have been promised," government transparency expert Jerry Brito wrote Monday. "It’s certainly not what I expect from an $8 million website. Vice President Biden, in charge of ensuring recovery transparency, should take notice and take action."

Administration officials would also ask for patience, noting that the first full wave of data will not appear in full on Recovery.gov until the end of October and that most of the spending data is yet to come.

"I want to stress that those of us who have been Keynesian economists throughout our lifetimes have never contemplated this level of transparency in a government stimulus program," White House Economic Adviser Jared Bernstein said Monday during the White House press briefing. "We've never seen anything like this, where recipients are telling you precisely how taxpayer dollars are at work preserving and creating jobs."

As the back-and-forth about the stimulus continues, keep a close Eye on these movers, shakers and scenarios that could impact the public's perception and future recovery efforts:

Earl Devaney: He oversees the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board, or RAT Board, which is responsible for posting all of the information and data related to the economic stimulus program on Recovery.gov. His "Don't blame me, I'm just the messenger" approach will likely solidify his already squeaky-clean reputation, thanks to previous stints as Interior Department inspector general and Secret Service agent.

Vice President Joseph Biden: If Devaney is "just the messenger," then Biden will get the blame, or credit as the political/public face of the recovery. He provides regular updates to President Obama and speaks with mayors and governors about the recovery via conference calls. Biden travels across the country with Cabinet secretaries to make funding announcements and warn potential bad apples that he will call out waste and corruption.

White House Economic Aides: The aforementioned Bernstein, along with Council of Economic Advisers Chairman Christina Romer and Domestic Policy Adviser Melody Barnes lend their economic and policy expertise to the cause, by working as surrogate spokespeople for the stimulus. They're also handling the dirty economic details behind the scenes.

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood: His department had much of the spending involved in the first round of jobs and spending reporting released last week. Though the bulk of the early spending was in non-discretionary, non-infrastructure spending (food stamps, aid to states, etc.), discretionary spending by the Transportation Department has moved quickly and helped create thousands of construction jobs. Of course, highway and bridge construction is also prone to waste and corruption.

"Good Government" Groups: OMBWatch.org, Brito's Mercatus Center at George Mason University, the Project on Government Oversight, ProPublica, the Sunlight Foundation and others will keep close tabs on how well the government reports the stimulus data on Recovery.gov and any efforts to spin the information in its favor.

Sen. Tom Coburn and Other Republicans: The Oklahoma lawmaker has already made noise about the transparency efforts, and his GOP colleagues will remain most skeptical of stimulus success and of how quickly the government distributes economic assistance.

The Unknown: The unknown -- good or bad -- could help or hurt the public's perception of the stimulus program: Will reporters or the good government groups discover widespread waste, fraud or abuse? Will economic experts and columnists declare the stimulus a smashing success? Could Recovery.gov crash? Will a Drudge-like critic mischaracterize stimulus data and cause headaches for the White House? Will the gaffe-prone Biden get too candid or fast and loose with the economic facts?

Leave your thoughts in the comments section below.

Cabinet and Staff News: Jay Johnson -- former TV anchor, Congressman and director of U.S. Mint -- dead at age 66. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor says the White House picked her outfits. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says a legitimate Afghan government could take months.

DOD Scientist Arrested on Spy Charges: Stewart David Nozette, 52, of Chevy Chase, was charged in a criminal complaint with attempting to communicate, deliver and transmit classified information to an undercover FBI agent he believed was an Israeli intelligence officer.

Census predicts fall in response rate: Mounting mistrust of government, rising identify theft and record numbers of foreclosures could discourage people from mailing back Census forms next year.

USDA confirms H1N1 in Minnesota pigs: Officials have begun to reach out to international organizations and are emphasizing that H1N1 cannot be contracted by eating pork products.

New boss moves quickly to change sluggish Patent Office: David Kappos arrived at the patent office as a former customer of the agency. He's earned early credit from colleagues, union leaders and agency veterans for quickly addressing several issues of concern.

Public-private pay gap rises in 2009: It climbed to 1.25 percent during the past year, but the Federal Salary Council did not recommend a specific pay raise for federal employees in 2010.

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By Ed O'Keefe  | October 20, 2009; 6:40 AM ET
Categories:  Eye Opener, Tracking the Stimulus  
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Comments

the stimulis is too little too late...
delaying the creation of jobs until before the 2010 election for political purposes will backfire on the dems...
where are the bills that would help the America worker...
where are the incentives for investors and employers to create new jobs...
jobs will save America...
the dems won't...

Posted by: DwightCollins | October 20, 2009 7:48 AM | Report abuse

First of all, people are being completely unrealistic if they think any amount of stimulus spending is going to pull the country out of the worst recession since the 1930's overnight. The President has said over and over again and top economists have said over and over again that the recovery would be slow and would take time. Don't forget the truth. That is that the President and his Administration inherited this recession from Bush and the Republicans. Coinciding with this disaster was the massive failure of the Banking system, also created by Bush and the Republicans. All I keep reading from Republicans is that "you can't blame this on Bush..etc etc". But the FACTS ARE THE FACTS and no amount of Republican spin is going to change the fact that Republicans under Bush created this FIASCO. In fact the budget was in surplus when Bush inherited it from Clinton. Bush and Republicans squandered the surplus and handed Obama a 1.2 trillion deficit. The President had no choice but to pump massive amounts of money into our economy to prevent a Depression and a total catastrophe. So it is ridiculous and sickening and turning off a lot of Independents that the Republicans are pointing fingers at Obama. If you want know how this mess was created...look in the mirror. This why Republicans polling numbers keep dropping and why the President's numbers keep rising. Americans know the truth and are not stupid contrary to what Republicans think.

Posted by: vintel7 | October 20, 2009 10:20 AM | Report abuse

What a Joke!

Saved 250,000 teacher jobs? Really?

OB could have saved 1.5 Million jobs annually by stopping the importing of Foreign labor..some of whom are now teaching in our school!

OB could have stop all the American companies from EXPORTING our American jobs overseas, but didn't...could have save untold jobs and the economy of many families!

OB could have demanded E-verify for every company in the United Stated be used to screen our illegals....OB could have saved at min of 7,000,000 jobs for unemployed Americans....but did nothing.

Before this Administration hurts itself by patting themselves on the back for spending BILLIONS of dollars to save a few 100,000 jobs, when OB could have SAVED millions of jobs by ending replacement of American Citizens in the work place.

Posted by: HernandezUSA | October 20, 2009 10:43 AM | Report abuse

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