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Federal Spending Reporting System Still Broken; $1.3 Trillion In Misreported Funds

Today, the Sunlight Foundation releases its latest Clearspending report, a website and scorecard that analyzes how well U.S. government agencies report their spending data on The analysis is a follow-up to last year's inaugural report and covers federal spending for fiscal year 2008 through FY 2010.

According to Sunlight's analysis, $1.3 trillion in federal spending was misreported in 2010. These data inaccuracies account for 94.5 percent of the total grant spending data reported last year, a less than one percent decrease over the previous year. Misreported funds for FY 2008 were 96.5 percent.

Sunlight testified twice before Congress this past spring on the issue, and lawmakers have responded with concern to the inaccuracies that our first Clearspending report uncovered.

The Digital Accountability and Transparency Act (DATA Act) was introduced in June and would establish an independent body to track all federal spending on a single website and require the use of consistent government-wide data standards. The White House also issued an executive order that called for a board to enforce greater transparency around federal spending.

"As the results of Clearspending show, the U.S. continues to lack genuine accountability for government spending," said Ellen Miller, co-founder and executive director of the Sunlight Foundation.

"Although we've seen improvements in the past year, the truth is we cannot fully account for how the federal government spends about $1.3 trillion.

"That's no negligible amount, especially when you compare it to the 'Super Committee's' task of finding $1.5 trillion in deficit cuts.

"Spending accountability, data accuracy and independent review will help correct the vast misreporting on Sunlight's Clearspending studies identify the problems, now it's critical that we fix them so that Americans have all the tools they need to track federal spending."

You can read the full report online here.

Clearspending offers a critique on the reliability of data from, across three metrics - consistency, completeness and timeliness. Overall, the data quality on remains poor and only one of the three metrics shows improvement:

Consistency: Only 33 percent of federal programs are reporting spending consistently between and the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance (another reporting mechanism). A lack of enforcement has weakened the incentive for agencies or programs to accurately report their spending, and this trend is likely to hold until such an incentive is introduced.

Completeness: In contrast to the rules required when applying for a government grant, the government doesn't subject itself to the same level of scrutiny for with 87 percent of all reported 2010 spending lacking some required information.

Timeliness: There has been considerable improvement from 2008 to 2010 in terms of timeliness. For the first time, in 2010, the average program-reporting lag was within the 30-day requirement. The latest average is 27 days, which is down nearly 50 percent from 51 days in 2008.

The Clearspending website also has a searchable scorecard that breaks down how federal programs are reporting their spending. Sunlight has identified over 200 programs that report well across all metrics for 2010, including:

* Violence Against Women Act Court Training and Improvement Grants (Dept. of Justice)

* Special Education Grants for Infants and Families (Dept. of Education)

* Special Education Preschool Grants (Dept. of Education)

* Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program (Dept. of Energy)

* Cooperative Forestry Research (Dept. of Agriculture)

* Payments to Agricultural Experiment Stations (Dept. of Agriculture)

* State Senior Environmental Employment Programs (EPA)

* Even Start (Dept. of Education)

* Specialty Crop Research Initiative (Dept. of Agriculture)

* Civic Education Cooperative Education Exchange Program (Dept. of Education)


More information on Clearspending's methodology here.

A video explaining more about Clearspending is available here.


The Sunlight Foundation is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable. Visit Sunlight Foundation to learn more about Sunlight's projects, including Political Party Time and Influence Explorer.


Posted on September 19, 2011

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