A new bipartisan Senate report revealed more than half of the government's public data on federal spending is wrong, as the website USAspending.gov is riddled with errors.
The Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, led by chairman Rob Portman (R., Ohio) and ranking member Tom Carper (D., Del.), released a report Tuesday finding nearly every agency is failing to accurately report its spending as required by federal law.
The subcommittee reviewed over two dozen inspector general reports and determined 55 percent of the spending data submitted to USAspending.gov was inaccurate. The errors accounted for $240 billion in spending during the second quarter of 2017, according to the report.
The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act of 2014, or DATA Act, required federal spending to be easily accessible to the public through a searchable website, which became USAspending.gov. The website was revamped earlier this year, but agencies are not meeting their requirements to submit accurate, consistent, and reliable data on its spending.
The agency in charge of USAspending.gov—the Treasury Department—is among the worst culprits, as 96 percent of its own data is inaccurate.
"The most troubling aspect of the Treasury Department's difficulties in submitting accurate data to USAspending.gov is that it is the very agency that created the DATA Act standards for [the] rest of the federal government," the report said.
One hundred percent of the Defense and Energy departments' spending was either incorrectly reported or not reported at all.
The Pentagon's inspector general warned, "Policymakers may not be able to rely on the DoD's financial and award data to make decisions and effectively plan for mission critical programs and operations."
"The goal of the DATA Act was to empower the American public and policymakers with timely and accurate information on how taxpayer money is spent in order to improve transparency and help identify and eliminate government waste," said Sen. Portman. "It is troubling that most federal agencies failed to comply with this law, and more than half of all the spending data federal agencies submitted was inaccurate."
"Going forward, this report underscores the importance of requiring federal agencies submit timely and reliable spending data so that the public and policymakers have a clear understanding of how taxpayer dollars are spent," Portman added.
The report noted a number of reasons for the complications of reporting federal spending, among them, sheer volume.
"In fiscal year 2017, for example, the government spent $3.98 trillion across the 96 agencies that comprise the executive branch," the report said.
The reports cited examples of inaccurate information on USAspending.gov. For instance, search results for the same programs can come up with different spending totals.
"Search results on USAspending.gov can be different depending on how a user initiates a search on the site," the report explained. "For example, there are two different results when a user searches for spending of the Department of Labor's Unemployment Insurance program. Using the Spending Explorer, a user sees the FY2017 expenditures for the program at $29,589,861,672."
However, when a user searches for unemployment insurance spending through the "Award Search" on USAspending.gov, the results are $26 billion less.
Nearly every department and agency had high error rates. The State Department reported an 83.6 percent accuracy error rate, accounting for over $3 billion worth of spending.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development failed to report $17.9 billion, and $37.8 billion of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's spending data was inaccurate—an error rate of 97.1 percent.
The inaccuracies included the food stamp program, or SNAP, which spent $68 billion last year.
"USAspending.gov, however, only published awards totaling $160 million, less than 1 percent of the program's spending for 2017," the report said.
The only agencies to report zero percent error rates were the Department of Health and Human Services and the Environmental Protection Agency. The subcommittee, however, found inconsistencies on USAspending.gov, such as a $64 million discrepancy in the EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund depending on how a user searched.
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