Lack of information makes it hard to know if the federal stimulus is creating tech jobs

Critics say site usability, lack of data make it impossible to determine how the federal stimulus is impacting tech and engineering jobs

WASHINGTON -- One obvious follow-up question to the U.S. government's announcement this month that the federal stimulus has created or saved 30,000 jobs so far is this: How many were IT and engineering jobs?

Unfortunately, there isn't an answer.

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There is no information at concerning the types of jobs either saved or created from the $16 billion in contracts awarded so far, representing 2% of the $787 billion stimulus.

The Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board that provides, designed to allow citizens to track funding, is posting only what it gets in reports from recipients. "We are not analyzing it in terms of types of jobs," said a board spokeswoman.

"That sort of analysis may be made at a later date, once we get the additional recipient reports on grants and loans posted on the Web site," but there's no time frame for providing it, she said.

The site includes interactive maps and spreadsheets showing companies that have received the data, the number of jobs created or saved, and a description of some of the work.

This barebones information makes a rough guess possible about the quality of jobs based on description of the work, but that's it.

"One of the primary reasons for the stimulus money is to create jobs and one of the primary things we would like to know from this data is what kinds of jobs were created, said Tony Fisher, the president and CEO of data management firm DataFlux Corp.

He blamed the lack of detailed information on an absence of data, a lack of consistency to the data we have and insufficient rules governing how that data is supposed to be collected and displayed.

"[] falls short in a number of respects in helping users understanding spending," said Craig Jennings, a senior policy analyst for OBM Watch, a nonprofit government watchdog group.

Among the problems is site navigation difficulty and an inability to search by recipient. This prompted the creation this month of the Coalition for and Accountable Recovery, which represents about 30 groups.

Along with OBM Watch, some of its other members include the Center for Responsive Politics, OMB Watch, Sunlight Foundation, Economic Policy Institute. The groups criticized the usability of the Web site, and said it needed functions, such as ability to search by recipient.

The stimulus is expected to create IT jobs but there's never been any estimate about how many. Both IT and engineering jobs have declined in the recession.

However, IT firms are expecting the stimulus to perk up spending. Mark Loughbridge, IBM's chief financial officer, said this month that public sector was again the fastest growing sector with 2% growth, led by health care and education.

"Now I think this is quite logical given the rollout of stimulus spend globally," he said told analysts on a third quarter earnings call this month.

Meanwhile, Sun Microsystems Inc. said this week it is cutting 3,000 jobs as it awaits the acquisition of Oracle Corp.

This story, "Lack of information makes it hard to know if the federal stimulus is creating tech jobs" was originally published by Computerworld.


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