"DOE has used three different methodologies to assess and report jobs created, which provide very different and potentially misleading pictures of jobs created," the report said. "For example, the calculations ranged from about 5,700 jobs to 20,200, depending on the methodology used."
The department received $6 billion in stimulus dollars to be spread among 17 federal sites with the intention of accelerating environmental cleanup projects that could be completed years ahead of schedule, while also creating thousands of new jobs.
Savannah River Site's $1.615 billion allocation was the second-largest in the nation. The largest sum -- $1.633 billion -- went to the Hanford Site in Richland, Wash.
The GAO said department officials correctly calculated job-creation numbers with the protocol specified by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, using a "prime contractor full-time equivalent" measure.
Using that figure, the GAO said, 5,655 jobs had been created as of March 31, including 1,389 at SRS.
"DOE, however, has chosen to also use two additional methodologies to calculate and publicly report job creation figures, which potentially provides a misleading picture of actual jobs created," the report said.
One of those figures is the sum of "prime contractor plus subcontractor full-time equivalent" positions, and a third method involved a "cumulative head count" that includes all workers who have participated in any portion of stimulus-funded projects, even if they were part time or provided a one-time service.
Using those calculations, the GAO said, the 5,655 jobs rose to 10,018 with the "prime contractor plus subcontractor" method, and totaled 20,266 jobs under the "cumulative head count."
At SRS, those numbers increased from 1,389 to 2,258 and 3,356, respectively, the report said.
"DOE frequently publicizes all three figures to represent the employment impact of Recovery Act funding on communities near DOE cleanup sites, without explaining how the figures were calculated," the GAO said. "But only full time equivalents for prime contractors are counted in a manner that can be compared with other federal recipients of Recovery Act funds."
Ines Triay, the department's assistant secretary for environmental management, said in response to the report that her department is taking steps to make job creation figures clearer "and articulate this to the public" to avoid future confusion.
In its detailed comments, DOE said that it has posted guidance on its Web site regarding the methodologies used to calculate job-creation figures and will also include a one-page explanation sheet with job numbers presented to stakeholders or the public.
GAO officials said they "reworded this recommendation to enhance its clarity."
Although they raised questions on job creation figures, auditors concluded that the department is meeting most of its goals.
"The department has made progress toward completing cleanup projects and the majority, although not all, of these projects appear to be meeting cost and schedule targets," the report said. "In carrying out its Recovery Act work, DOE has implemented additional steps to address familiar contract and project management challenges, by providing stricter controls over how and when funds are disbursed to cleanup sites, increasing reporting requirements, and paying greater attention to project oversight."