In December 2007, the U.S. government launched a new website that it promised would make the spending by federal government agencies transparent to all, the Washington Post recalls:
USASpending.gov was launched to great fanfare in 2007, the product of the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act. “Technology makes it possible for every American to know what is happening and to hold elected officials accountable,” said one of its congressional sponsors, then-Senator Barack Obama.
So how well is the U.S. federal government living up to that promise? USA Today crunches some numbers:
WASHINGTON—A government website intended to make federal spending more transparent was missing at least $619 billion from 302 federal programs, a government audit has found.
And the data that does exist is wildly inaccurate, according to the Government Accountability Office, which looked at 2012 spending data. Only 2% to 7% of spending data on USASpending.gov is “fully consistent with agencies’ records,” according to the report.
Among the data missing from the 6-year-old federal website:
• The Department of Health and Human Services failed to report nearly $544 billion, mostly in direct assistance programs like Medicare. The department admitted that it should have reported aggregate numbers of spending on those programs.
• The Department of the Interior did not report spending for 163 of its 265 assistance programs because, the department said, its accounting systems were not compatible with the data formats required by USASpending.gov. The result: $5.3 billion in spending missing from the website.
• The White House itself failed to report any of the programs it’s directly responsible for. At the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, officials said they thought HHS was responsible for reporting their spending.
For more than 22% of federal awards, the spending website literally doesn’t know where the money went. The “place of performance” of federal contracts was most likely to be wrong.
In its 2012 fiscal year, U.S. federal government outlays totaled over 3,517 billion dollars. The $619 billion of that spending that wasn’t made visible on the USASpending.gov website in 2012 represents a failure to account for 17.6% of the U.S. government’s total spending that year.
But will any elected official be held accountable for the federal government’s ongoing lack of transparency over its spending, as the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act’s principal sponsor promised they would be?