A recently revamped federal website designed to make contract spending information publicly accessible is plagued with major data gaps, a watchdog group reports.
A new version of the Treasury Department-run USAspending.gov, officially launched March 2, was designed to remedy missing or faulty information on federal contract awards and executive compensation. The site was re-launched under the DATA Act, the law passed in 2014 to make federal expenditures more transparent.
Yet eight of the 97 agencies the website tracks are late in reporting DATA Act spending information—including the Defense Department, which is almost a year behind in its submissions, according to a June 28 letter from the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington-based nonpartisan, independent government watchdog. Other government programs have submitted very few spending records or none, according to the group.
“It is clear from other records from agencies that these programs are operating and spending billions, but the data is either not being reported to USAspending or is being reported with such major errors that it isn’t usable,” POGO senior policy analyst Sean Moulton wrote to Amy Edwards, deputy assistant Treasury secretary for accounting policy and financial transparency, and Victoria Collin, chief of management controls and assistance at the Office of Management and Budget’s Office of Federal Financial Management. Still, he commended the agency for developing the new site in a transparent way.
The revamped site comes up short in the data itself, how it’s presented, and how easy it is to search and sift through, a “critical” concern, Moulton wrote.
“If a user comes to USAspending but can’t find the right data, then the website fails to accomplish its primary purpose—to inform the public,” he said in his letter.
Problems with the site also include the lack of a function to help users find information about how much money particular entities, such as contractors and grantees, have received from the federal government.
“This remains one of the largest gaps in the current website, a weakness easily prevented as Treasury must have understood that the ability to review spending by recipient is one of the most basic functionalities that users would want,” Moulton wrote.
Officials with Treasury and OMB didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment about the POGO letter.
The letter also takes aim at executive compensation, a website feature that Bloomberg Government reported in December 2016 was rife with missing and faulty data. The site, required to list the salaries of top contractor executives, included off-kilter data such as officials reportedly earned anywhere from $200 a year, to billions of dollars, to one making almost $1 trillion.
This made it difficult for government watchdogs and others to track taxpayer-funded contractor salaries under the 2008 executive compensation sunshine law that mandated making such information public.
The new website hasn’t rectified the issue, POGO said in its letter.
“Contract data is supposed to include information on the compensation of the contractors’ five highest-paid executives,” Moulton wrote. “Even for recent transactions, it seems that only a small percentage of records from any agency have this information included.”