August 6 2014

How Do You Mislay $619 Billion Dollars?

Charlotte Hays

I'm beginning to think the federal government is so messed up that it can't keep track of anything--Lois Lerner's emails, errant ObamaCare "navigators," or $619 billion in federal spending.

Okay, wait--how do you lose track of $619 billion dollars?

USA Today reports that USASpending.gov, a government website set up specifically to track federal spending (you know the ol' tranparency thinggy), has lost track of $619 billion dollars. To put that figure in perspective, remember that the unprecedented spending in the stimulus package of 2009 amounted to $831 billion.

The USA Today story, which is based on a GAO report,  reports:

Only 2% to 7% of spending data on USASpending.gov is "fully consistent with agencies' records," according to the report.

Among the data missing from the 6-year-old federal website:

• The Department of Health and Human Services failed to report nearly $544 billion, mostly in direct assistance programs like Medicare. The department admitted that it should have reported aggregate numbers of spending on those programs.

• The Department of the Interior did not report spending for 163 of its 265 assistance programs because, the department said, its accounting systems were not compatible with the data formats required by USASpending.gov. The result: $5.3 billion in spending missing from the website.

• The White House itself failed to report any of the programs it's directly responsible for. At the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, officials said they thought HHS was responsible for reporting their spending.

For more than 22% of federal awards, the spending website literally doesn't know where the money went. The "place of performance" of federal contracts was most likely to be wrong.

Rick Moran of the American Thinker observes:

No, this doesn't mean that $619 billion has been "lost," although some of it may have, indeed, gone down a black hole. What it means is that we have incompetents running federal departments. How can HHS not report $544 billion? Madness.   

The website is the result of the 2006 Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which was signed into law in 2006 by President George W. Bush. The two prime movers behind the bill were then-Senator Barack Obama and Senator Tom Coburn. Senator Coburn blasted the "complete failure" of the endeavor in a statement released by his office:

“The administration set a goal of 100% accuracy by the end of 2011,” Dr. Coburn said, “Three years later the federal government cannot even break a 10% accuracy rate. This complete failure in spending transparency hurts our ability to assess the pros and cons of how Washington spends tax dollars. It is disappointing that the federal bureaucracy is so vast and unaccountable that the Administration cannot enact the president’s signature accomplishment as a senator requiring the government to disclose how and where it spends money. Without transparency there can be no accountability.”

Geoffrey Norman at the Weekly Standard points out that HHS—which “failed to report” $544 billion—has seen its role expanded under ObamaCare.

But don’t worry. Help is on the way:

OMB spokesman Jamal Brown said the administration is already working to improve the data following the passage of the DATA Act last year. "OMB is committed to federal spending transparency and working with agencies to improve the completeness and accuracy of data submissions," he said in a statement.

Well, that’ll fix it.

 

 

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