A new Senate report found that over half of the public spending data reported by federal agencies on the USAspending.gov website are either incomplete, inaccurate or both.
The report was published by the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. It analyzed spending data for fiscal year 2017 for 25 federal agencies which represent roughly 77% of all federal spending for that fiscal year.
According to the report, “Based on the Subcommittee’s review of Inspector General reports for these 25 federal agencies, at least 55 percent of the spending data submitted to USAspending.gov – submissions representing roughly $240 billion (out of $779 billion) – was incomplete, inaccurate, or both. Inaccurate spending data frustrates the purpose of the DATA Act: a user friendly search engine detailing government-wide spending.”
The table below shows a compilation of the findings from the report for each agency.
|Agency||Error Rate||Q2 2017 Financial and Award Data||Total Incorrectly Reported to USAspending.gov|
Could not test
Could not test
|OPM||1.3%||Could not provide||Could not calculate|
|Nuclear Regulatory Commission||54%||$477,775,111||$257,998,560|
About the DATA Act
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014 required agencies to disclose expenditures and link information on those expenditures to federal program activities.
It also required The Office of Management and Budget and the Treasury Department to establish government-wide financial data standards that would specify, define, and describe the data to be submitted to increase the consistency and comparability of information from the various agencies. Both agencies were required by the Act to “increase the quantity, quality, and transparency of spending data available to agencies, Congress, and the public by establishing standards to enable the reporting and tracking of Government-wide spending at multiple points in the spending life cycle” and publish the data on USAspending.gov.
As the report noted, “Inaccurate spending data frustrates the purpose of the DATA Act: a user friendly search engine detailing government-wide spending.”
Non-Compliance by Agencies
The report noted numerous examples of agencies failing to comply with the law.
For example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development failed to report $17.9 billion in incurred obligations.
The Agriculture Department did not have a fully functioning system in time to report all FY 2017 data. There were also external matching problems that led to data loss; USDA uses a 9 digit zip code in its systems whereas the government-wide standard is 5 digits, so addresses would not match in reports so data often couldn’t be reported.
The report stated, “Recent attempts to track and standardize reporting reveal issues with data inaccuracy and completeness across nearly every federal agency. And with spending at historic levels, the need to track spending data across the federal government is more important than ever.”
A central repository for reporting government spending data is a great idea in theory, but this report proves that implementing it will be much harder in reality.
A copy of the report is included below.