Massive inconsistencies continue to affect USASpending.gov data

Monday - 8/4/2014, 5:19am EDT

By Ariel Levin-Waldman
Special to Federal News Radio

Agencies have not been properly reporting their grants and loans to USASpending.gov, according to the Government Accountability Office. A probe of data on the website found that only 2-to-7 percent of awards listed were entirely consistent when checked against agencies records.

"Although agencies generally reported information for contracts to USASpending.gov, they did not properly report information on assistance awards, totaling nearly $619 billion," GAO said in its report it released Friday.

GAO said the most common data inconsistency were descriptions of an award's place of performance. The names of recipients are the most consistent between records and online. GAO could not determine how consistent other award records were because agencies' records were incomplete or inadequate.

The report said 10 percent of awards information could not be verified and a significant amount of information could not be verified about program source information and the state of performance.

Among the inconsistencies, GAO found that some online awards records did not have verifiable data from their issuing agencies. The Office of Management and Budget placed requirements on agencies to ensure their data has substantiated information and verifying documents, but GAO said the standards have not been effective.

When explaining its lack of data reporting, the Millennium Challenge Corporation said it did not know how to report its awards to foreign recipients and non- governmental organizations. But GAO said OMB has clear instructions for doing so.

Data reporting instructions are unclear for other agencies as well. The CIA does not have to report awards for classified projects, and said it is also exempt from reporting non-classified project awards to prevent people from finding out the agency's requirements. OMB's reporting guidelines are not clear if non-classified projects are exempt, GAO stated.

Federal funding of the improperly reported awards totaled $619 billion. GAO recommended OMB issue guidance clarifying agencies' reporting requirements.

It also wants agencies to keep better records to verify information on USASpending.gov and wants an oversight process to regularly check consistency between the records.

GAO's report is not the first time USASpending.gov has come under fire. In 2013, OMB gave agencies a November 2014 deadline to assure that all information on the site is accurate.

In 2011, the Sunlight Foundation said that agencies misreported nearly every dollar they spent.

Ariel Levin-Waldman is an intern with Federal News Radio

RELATED STORIES:

OMB sets new deadline to improve data on USASpending.gov

Federal spending database full of inaccuracies