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Government Spending Website Is Off by $619 Billion

Brianna Ehley
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The government’s attempt at making federal spending more transparent is failing miserably.

USASpending.gov - launched in 2007 - is the first website of its kind that allows the public to see everything the federal government spends its money on. But there’s a problem: The site has been flagged as completely inaccurate and missing massive chunks of data.

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Seriously. Only between 2 percent and 7 percent of entries listed on the site were accurate in 2012, according to a new Government Accountability Office report. The auditors found incomplete or inaccurate information on grants and loans totaling $619 billion.

Here’s how it’s supposed to work - agencies are directed to report most of the grants they award directly to the website. They’re supposed to include the amount of the grant, the name of the recipient, where the awardee is based, etc. However, auditors say that agencies seem to be confused about the reporting guidelines set by the Office of Management and Budget. And that confusion has led to serious discrepancies posted on the website.

For example, the Health and Human Services and Interior Departments both failed to accurately report billions of dollars in spending, auditors said. Even the White House didn’t accurately report spending from its own programs.

The issue is the lack of uniform reporting guidelines said Carol Cha, GAO official who authored the report. She clarified that they aren’t saying $619 billion is actually unaccounted for within the federal government, it’s just not detailed accurately on the website.

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This is still a huge deal, since having significant information missing from a website aimed at transparency not only negates its purpose but raises even more questions about government competency.

Though many agencies failed to send in accurate information, the auditors blame the Office of Management and Budget for not clarifying reporting guidelines.

Cha said most of the agencies weren’t even aware that such information was missing and many went back and corrected any inaccuracies. She noted that after the report came out, the total expenditures on the website increased by 23 percent.

The most common error by agencies was entering the wrong "place of performance" of the federal contracts.

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Other mistakes included not listing who won the contract or entering the wrong price or date.

“OMB needs to do a better job of clarifying what the reporting guidelines are,” Cha said. GAO also recommended that OMB develop an enforcement mechanism to make sure agencies are following the guidelines.

OMB generally agreed with the report and said it would further clarify how agencies should be reporting their awards and grants. It is also planning to re-launch a new version of the website with "enhanced data and usability."

This story was updated at 4:15 p.m.

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