The real problem here is who is going to protect us from "bad guys" in government???
Editorial board, The Republic | azcentral.com 7:24 a.m. MST August 11, 2014
Our View: USASpending.gov is a great idea that needs to get better. Much better.
It would be easy to make fun of a federal accountability website that didn't account for more than $619 billion.
But that doesn't mean USASpending.gov gets a pass for the failings that are detailed in a new Government Accountability Office report. The website is a good idea that needs to get better. Much better.
If you've never heard of the website, that counts as another problem. It can't be a public resource if the public doesn't know about it.
Authorized by Congress in 2006 as a tool to track government spending, it was launched the next year. The site was touted as part of "a common-sense vision of government transparency and accessibility" by one of its congressional sponsors: Sen. Barack Obama.
The GAO found that the Executive Office of the President failed to report $247 million in assistance programs it funded in 2012. White House officials said they thought the Department of Health and Human Services was responsible for reporting that spending. Oops.
Meanwhile, HHS failed to report $544 billion of its own spending. Double oops.
Throw on a few more billion here and there, and you get a promise of accountability that falls short.
Under the law, government agencies are supposed to report contracts and grants. The website is searchable and yields some interesting tidbits.
In fiscal 2013, Raytheon and Boeing were the top federal contractors in Arizona, pulling in $4.4 billion and $2.4 billion from Uncle Sam, respectively.
That same year, the private University of Phoenix Inc. got $768 million worth of aid for students in the form of Pell Grants.
Arizona State University pulled in $97 million.
There's a lot researchers and interested citizens can do with statistics like that. Having them in an easy-to-find, easy-to-use form is a real public service and a powerful tool to hold government accountable.
That is, if you can believe the numbers.
The figures in these examples came from the website for 2013. The GAO report, based on 2012 figures, found that only 2 to 7 percent of the data it reviewed was "fully consistent with agencies' records."
So who knows?
To be fair, after the GAO informed agencies of the missing data, catch-up reports were filed.
The GAO was not aiming to provide ammunition for the "government can't do anything right" crowd. This wasn't about gotcha. It was about monitoring performance and making recommendations on how to make them work better.
That's why it's a mistake to just mock this website for its (many) problems.
The goal of using technology to put information about government spending in the hands of the governed needs to be nurtured and perfected. This is especially important now, as the administration is implementing last year's Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, which will increase the data available to the public.
The GAO is recommending that the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees USASpending.gov, do more to clarify how and what agencies are supposed to report, and provide more oversight.
It will take time to make this work right, but the intent is worthy of the Founding Fathers.