OMB falls short on USASpending.gov data, GAO says

OMB has not included subcontracting award data on USAspending.gov and has no specific plan for collecting such data.

The USASpending.gov Web site has been live for more than two years so the public can see where its tax dollars are going, but the site’s data has not been complete nor accurate, according to a new report.

USASpending.gov went live Dec.13, 2007--a month earlier than the legislated deadline. It's a Web site compiling a comprehensive list of the more than $1 trillion in financial assistance awarded through contracts, loans and grants. Congress mandated such a site in its Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act (FFATA), which became law in September 2006.

Since the Office of Management and Budget launched the site, OMB has fallen short of several of program requirements, the Government Accountability Office reported March 12.


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First, OMB has not included subcontracting award data on USAspending.gov, which was required as of January 2009, nor does OMB have a specific plan in place for collecting and reporting such data, according to GAO’s report.

Second, OMB has yet to report to Congress on the use of the site. However, OMB officials told GAO they are collecting the necessary information and plan to issue the report this year.

While USASpending.gov is supposed to give the public a complete view of government spending, nine of the 29 agencies required to submit information on federal assistance awards did not file a total of 15 awards, GAO reported. More importantly, OMB has no way to identify agencies that don’t report their award data as the law requires, according to the report.

“Without a more effective approach to ensuring that all agencies report applicable awards, the utility of USAspending.gov will be impaired by gaps in the required information,” GAO wrote.

Data problems already linger among the information included on USASpending.gov. In a random sample of 100 awards, GAO found numerous inconsistencies between USAspending.gov data and records provided by agencies. Each of the 100 awards had at least one required data field that was blank or inconsistent with agency records. Some of the agencies’ own records lacked sufficient information to even evaluate their consistency with data on USAspending.gov, GAO reported. The most common data fields with inconsistencies or omissions included titles describing the purpose of the award and the city where award-funded work was to be performed, according to the report.

To improve the data, OMB’s E-Government Portfolio Manager told GAO that OMB plans to create an online data quality dashboard of agency submissions to improve the completeness of award data. The manager also said the Open Government Directive would help with the reporting and the quality of the data.

OMB plans to issue additional guidance on agency data plans, internal controls over data quality and a longer-term strategy for federal spending transparency, the manager told GAO. OMB also plans to improve the transparency of federal award data, such as launching an improved version of the USAspending.gov site this year.

“If OMB takes these steps as planned and effectively implements them, it could help improve the overall quality of federal spending data,” GAO wrote.

About the Author

Matthew Weigelt is a freelance journalist who writes about acquisition and procurement.

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