Transparency

Watchdog finds more than $1T in misreported federal spending

money drain

Where does it go? A watchdog group has found that agencies are failing to properly report more than $1 trillion in spending to the organization charged with keeping spending information transparent. (Stock image)

The Department of Health and Human Services tops the list of the agencies most delinquent in reporting spending on USASpending.gov, with nearly $800 billion in unreported funds, according to a watchdog group.

The Sunlight Foundation’s latest "Clearspending" findings reveal discrepancies in what was posted on USASpending.gov about agencies’ grants versus the information available in other bookkeeping records. The analysis is based on the organization’s measurements of grant spending in terms of consistency, completeness and timeliness. The analysis does not include spending on contracts.

The top offenders

The top 5 agencies in unreported spending:

HHS $800 billion

VA $8.62 billion

Interior $6.97 billion

USDA $4.27 billion

HUD $4.21 billion

The total of $1.55 trillion in misreported funds in 2011 represents 94.5 percent of the total grant spending reported that year -- a spike from 2010’s total of $1.3 trillion. Misreporting includes overreporting, underreporting, nonreporting, late reporting and incomplete reporting.

"Last year, Congress had an opportunity to correct these inaccuracies with the DATA Act, which would dramatically expand and improve federal spending reporting," said Kaitlin Devine, lead researcher for Clearspending and a Sunlight Web developer. "The Senate’s failure to pass it is a loss to the public’s right to know how the government does its grant making."

As for nonreporting, HHS is a repeat offender: The previous Clearspending analysis found that the agency failed to report $495 billion to USASpending.gov in 2010, a sum that accounted for more than half of HHS’ total grant spending that year.

Failure to report spending does not necessarily mean the government does not know where that money is, Devine wrote in a Feb. 4 blog post. "But it does mean that there is at least one problem with how the government reports this spending on the public-facing site," she noted. "And that is the main point of USASpending.gov -- to be the publicly searchable version of federal spending that the public can use to hold government accountable. It deserves to be just as accurate as the information included on a federal audit."

The good news in all this, the Sunlight Foundation noted, is that although agencies are falling even further behind on consistence of reporting, they showed progress in two other key metrics:

Consistency: The amount of inconsistent data has increased in the past few years and reached 69.3 percent in 2011. The Sunlight Foundation attributed the increase to several Medicare insurance programs that stopped reporting data to USASpending.gov in fiscal 2010.

Completeness: Since the last Clearspending report, the number of obligations with completeness errors has decreased from a high of 66.4 percent in 2010 to 26.1 percent in 2011.

Timeliness: The number of obligations failing due to timeliness issues has also been dropping. It fell from 14.6 percent of all obligations in 2010 to just 1.5 percent in 2011.

About the Author

Camille Tuutti is a former FCW staff writer who covered federal oversight and the workforce.

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