Sens. Tom Carper, D-Delaware, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, the ranking member and chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, recently unveiled a bipartisan report detailing the failure of federal agencies to submit accurate data to USAspending.gov, the public website that provides spending data to taxpayers and policymakers.
Federal agencies are charged with submitting spending data under the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, the 2014 law requiring standardized reporting of federal spending to be posted on USAspending.gov to provide the American public and policymakers with accurate, consistent and reliable data on governmentwide spending. The report outlines key findings and recommendations designed to facilitate more accurate future data submissions by federal agencies to USAspending.gov.
“One of our most sacred responsibilities as elected officials is to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars which is exactly what the DATA Act sought to ensure,” said Carper. “Congress was clear when we wrote and passed the bipartisan DATA Act in 2014. The law was intended to enhance government transparency, improve accountability and reduce wasteful government spending by establishing government-wide financial data standards. But a law is only as successful as its execution. The bipartisan report that Sen. Portman and I have compiled clearly shows that federal agencies have failed to comply with the law, which has diminished the ability of policy makers and taxpayers to see how their tax dollars are being spent in a timely and accurate way. These findings show that additional scrutiny is needed going forward to improve the data that federal agencies are submitting so that the public can be confident that they have complete information when it comes to federal spending.”
The report’s key findings include:
— The current version of USAspending.gov fails to achieve its legislative mandate as a user-friendly website with accurate, consistent and reliable data on government-wide spending for taxpayers and policy makers. USAspending.gov spending data is internally inconsistent.
— Twenty-five IG reports reviewed by the subcommittee found more than half of the data submitted to USAspending.gov for the second quarter of 2017 — roughly $240 billion in spending — was inaccurate.
— In June 2018, the Office of Management and Budget and the Department of Treasury updated agency guidance for submitted data for USASpending.gov that weakens data standards and could lead to continued inaccurate DATA Act submissions.
— The Treasury Department was responsible for ensuring that all agencies submit accurate spending data, yet 96 percent of the Treasury Department’s own data was inaccurate.
— The Department of Defense inspector general warned that “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.”
PSI’s recommendations include:
— OMB and the Treasury Department should continue to update the standards and guidelines they were required to issue for agencies to follow when making DATA Act submissions.
— The Treasury Department should improve the overall quality of USAspending.gov. PSI learned of complications with the website, even after it was moved out of the beta testing phase.
— OMB and the Treasury Department should establish clear definitions for agencies and IGs to follow when conducting reviews of DATA Act compliance. The different stakeholders involved in the DATA Act submissions used different definitions for certain terms needed to make DATA Act submissions. For example, stakeholders defined crucial terms like “error” differently from each other, which produced inconsistent DATA Act submissions and IG reports.