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 USASpending.gov audit. Unfortunately, their findings were similar to ours.
In fiscal year 2012:
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 USASpending.gov, 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.