Billions of Dollars Missing From Government Spending Website

Last December, National Priorities Project and the Center for Effective Government noted that “hundreds of billions of dollars in federal spending are missing from USASpending, the website designed to show the public how their tax dollars are spent.”

Last Friday, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released the results of their own audit. Unfortunately, their findings were similar to ours.

In fiscal year 2012:

  • Nearly $619 billion of assistance award money was underreported in HHS was the biggest offender, with almost $544 billion underreported assistance awards.
  • GAO estimates that only between two and seven percent of awards listed in are consistent with agencies' own records.
  • USASpending was missing spending information completely for 342 federal programs.

The report goes into great detail about the various reasons for poor data in USASpending, and much of it confirms what we’ve been writing about for years. Medicare spending was missing entirely because the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) didn’t aggregate individual payment records and submit them to USASpending. Information that would help link USASpending records to the federal budget was missing or inconsistent. The Office of Management and Budget (OMB), which currently oversees, hasn’t implemented previous recommendations for improving the data and hasn’t provided enough guidance to agencies about what’s required.

The good news is that many agencies fixed their data after GAO reported its findings. But until there’s a substantial commitment by agencies to comply fully with federal spending transparency laws and by OMB to provide effective leadership, we don’t expect USASpending to accurately report how our tax dollars are being spent.