WASHINGTON — A government website intended to make federal spending more transparent is 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.
That's a problem, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.
"We live in a world in which information drives decisions," Carper said. "And, given the budget constraints that our government faces, we need reliable information on how and where our money is being spent."
The report comes as the Obama administration begins to implement the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which Congress passed last year to expand the amount of federal spending data available to the public.
The report said the Office of Management and Budget needed to exercise greater oversight of federal agencies reporting spending data. "Until these weaknesses are addressed, any effort to use the data will be hampered by uncertainties about accuracy," the report said.
OMB spokesman Jamal Brown said the administration is already working to improve the data following the passage of the DATA Act last year. "OMB is committed to federal spending transparency and working with agencies to improve the completeness and accuracy of data submissions," he said in a statement.
The administration is also transferring responsibility for the website from the General Services Administration to the Bureau of the Fiscal Service in the Department of the Treasury.