- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2014

It’s supposed to be the government’s transparency website so that the public can see how taxpayer money is spent, but USASpending.gov is so error-prone that it’s missing more than $600 billion in awards from 2012 alone, and as much as 98 percent of its records were plagued by inaccuracies, according to a scathing new audit.

The website was a special bipartisan project of then-Sen. Barack Obama and Sen. Tom Coburn during Mr. Obama’s brief tenure in Congress, but the Government Accountability Office said in a report last week that the Obama administration has been less than stellar in following through on making the openness initiative work.

Some agencies claimed not to know what to report, while others ignored the instructions. And even those that were reporting data got it wrong, the GAO said.

“The administration set a goal of 100 percent accuracy by the end of 2011,” Mr. Coburn, Oklahoma Republican and Congress’s top waste watcher, said. “Three years later the federal government cannot even break a 10 percent accuracy rate.”

The website, which has become a key tool for citizen watchdogs and journalists, misreported the name of the entity receiving money in about one in 20 cases, botched the dollar amount in as many as 7 percent of awards, obfuscated the purpose of the money in up to 33 percent of cases and botched the location of the recipient in even more instances, the GAO audit said.

A sampling of data found just 4 percent of records were error-free, and that number could be as low as 2 percent when extrapolated governmentwide, the auditors said.


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The administration’s commitment to openness took another hit Tuesday when the government’s top inspectors general, who are the first line of defense against waste and abuse, sent a letter to Congress Tuesday warning they are getting stonewalled on key investigations by the Obama administration.

“Limiting access in this manner is inconsistent with the IG Act, at odds with the independence of inspectors general and risks leaving the agencies insulated from scrutiny and unacceptably vulnerable to mismanagement and misconduct — the very problems that our offices were established to review and that the American people expect us to be able to address,” the 47 IGs said in their letter.

Among the inspectors general that have raised specific complaints just this year have been the top watchdogs for the Peace Corps and the Department of Justice, both of whom say they were blocked from key information in sensitive probes.

Mr. Obama won office promising to run “the most transparent” White House in history, including opening up negotiations on bills to C-SPAN audiences, releasing the names of lobbyists who visited the White House and encouraging agencies to assume information is public unless there’s a very strong legal reason to withhold it.

But Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, said the IGs’ joint complaint undercuts that record.

“These nonpartisan, independent agency watchdogs say they are getting stonewalled,” Mr. Grassley wrote in a letter of his own Tuesday. “How are the watchdogs supposed to be able to do their jobs without agency cooperation?”

The spending website was one of Mr. Obama’s earliest achievements while serving as a senator from Illinois, stemming from a bill he sponsored with Mr. Coburn in 2006, which was signed by then-President George W. Bush.

Mr. Obama even touted the measure during the 2008 presidential debates, citing his work on “what we call ‘Google for Government,’ which says that we are going to list every dollar of federal spending.”

In office at the White House, however, his administration’s record has been mixed.

The GAO said his budget office took some steps, issuing guidance and clarifications to try to figure out what’s to be posted. But the Office of Management and Budget also has ignored repeated warnings from the GAO that reporting standards for executive branch agencies fell short. The OMB said it recognized the errors but never took steps to correct them, investigators said.

OMB spokesman Jamal Brown said officials want to get the transparency policies right, and said many of the GAO’s recommendations are now part of the new federal DATA Act, which pushes agencies to clean up data and comply with disclosure.

“OMB is committed to federal spending transparency and working with agencies to improve the completeness and accuracy of data submissions to USASpending.gov,” Mr. Brown said.

The DATA Act passed Congress earlier this year and was signed by Mr. Obama in May. It transfers oversight of the spending website from the OMB to the Department of the Treasury.

Treasury Department officials submitted a short response to the GAO saying they “appreciate your comments and will take them into consideration” as they ramp up new oversight controls.

Both Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill said the new GAO report gives them a road map to make sure the administration follows through on the DATA Act.

“It is completely unacceptable that the federal government continues to struggle to report even the most basic information on how taxpayer resources are spent,” said Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat.

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