Report: Over Half of Agencies’ Public Spending Data are Wrong

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By on July 24, 2018 in Agency News with 0 Comments

Pieces of paper spread out showing various financial data charts

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
SSA 36.9% $248,077,220,903 $91,540,494,513
HUD

Could not test

$39,600,000,000 $39,600,000,000
Agriculture 97.1% $38,964,000,000 $37,834,044,000
VA 60% $61,354,996,332 $36,812,997,799
DOT

Could not test

$5,182,810,992 $5,182,810,992
Energy 100% $4,101,229,733 $4,101,229,733
DHS 64% $5,313,193,672 $3,400,443,950
State 83.6% $3,795,080,336 $3,172,687,161
NASA 57% $3,692,766,298 $2,104,876,790
Justice 89.6% $9,400,000,000 $8,422,400,000
GSA 54.6% $2,657,055,023 $1,450,752,043
OPM 1.3% Could not provide Could not calculate
Interior 37.6% $2,745,131,731 $1,032,169,530
HHS .3% $333,000,000,000 $999,000,000
Defense 100% $990,100,000 $990,100,000
Treasury 96.2% $711,803,354 $684,754,827
Commerce 64.3% $936,175,503 $601,960,848
Science Foundation 62.2% $930,008,596 $578,465,347
Labor 76.8% $571,390,543 $438,827,937
Education 2.8% $12,035,006,875 $336,980,193
IRS 97% $332,607,474 $322,629,250
USAID 8.3% $3,816,398,303 $316,761,059
Nuclear Regulatory Commission 54% $477,775,111 $257,998,560
SBA 32.3% $66,307,161 $21,417,213
EPA 0% $628,478,907 $0
Totals 55% $779,379,536,847 $240,203,801,745

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.

Bottom Line

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.

2018-07-24 Senate Report on DATA Act Non-Compliance

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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