11/19/2009 04:02 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Are Criticisms of Data Fair?

By Jennifer LaFleur and Michael Grabell, ProPublica

Stimulus critics were abuzz this week flogging the federal Web site for flaws in its first big data release. Problems ranged from confusing variation and gaps in job numbers to mistakes that put projects in nonexistent congressional districts to spending that never made it into the data.

Even stimulus backers demanded fixes. Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations and one of the chief architects of the nearly $800 billion stimulus package, demanded that the Obama administration "correct the ludicrous mistakes."

Earl Devaney, the top stimulus watchdog charged with running, downplayed the problems, saying he's less interested in data glitches than in what's happening with taxpayer money.

"Things like inappropriate congressional districts have no effect on our ability to combat waste, fraud and abuse," said Devaney, chairman of the Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board.

The administration's repeated promise that Americans would be able to track the course of every stimulus dollar set high expectations for the first round of spending reports. And compared with many other government databases, the error rate in the stimulus data isn't all that bad.

Visit to read the full report.

Jennifer LaFleur is the director of computer assisted reporting and Michael Grabell is a reporter for ProPublica, America's largest investigative newsroom.