70% of US federal spending reports don't add up

Nicko from the Sunlight Foundation sez,
Today the Sunlight Foundation launched analysis that reveals more than $1.3 trillion in federal reporting data from 2009 is broken. These data inaccuracies account for 70 percent of the total $1.9 trillion in government spending data reported last year. Clearspending offers a critique on the reliability of data from USASpending.gov, across three metrics--consistency, completeness and timeliness--and covers spending from 2007, 2008 and 2009.

While there has been an increase in the number of programs reporting to USASpending.gov in the past three years, the reported data suffers from an abundance of errors, as well as problems with the data's timeliness and completeness. Findings from Sunlight's Clearspending show that a significant portion of the government's data is unreliable and that USASpending.gov has not fulfilled its legal requirement of providing the public access to accurate, timely and detailed information on how federal agencies fulfill their spending obligations.

Clearspending (Thanks, Nicko!)


  1. How about we cut any spending that can’t be accounted for. Make it a whitelist of sorts. If we can’t even identify it, it must not be important, right?

    I’m sure a lot of the missing recipients will show up quick under that kind of threat.

  2. Here’s an idea. In light of the looming flood of “see, government can’t do anything right” posts, how about we consider, for just a fleeting moment, the possibility that we might vote for competent politicians who will in turn work to make government function properly? You know, rather than people who say they want to be elected because government is the problem.

      1. You would need a fully realized third-party for that.

        You can’t fix the problem by multiplying it. The very existence of parties is the problem, and George Washington both predicted it and laid out the reasons why this is so.

        When parties are outlawed, and people vote for individuals again, you’ll see less corruption. Political parties guarantee corruption and inefficiency… as amply demonstrated by Barack Obama and Howard Dean quite recently.

  3. Well, the Black-Ops budgets have to come from somewhere! Like you’re going to be able to see the Adromeda Strain Wildfire biological warfare station budget? I don’t think so.

  4. “70% of US federal spending reports don’t add up”

    But your tax return had better be fucking flawless.

  5. To give the Government the benefit of the doubt.. i wonder if its even possible to clearly and accurately document a budget of that size, especially considering its dynamic and constantly changing.

  6. I happen to be Federal Contractor, and I often use sites like USA Spending for light business development research. One giant problem with it is that it doesn’t track the value of tasks within Indefinite Quanity / Indefinite Delivery contracts (IDIQs, for short).

    On other contract types (Time and Materials, Firm Fixed Price, etc.), the government makes some sort of one time arrangement to buy a good or service. These show up on sites like USAspending as ‘Contract for X, to Provider Y, in the amount of $Z’.

    IDIQs are a kind of blanket purchasing agreements that allow the purchaser to cut task orders at will for goods and services within a broad scope of requirement, up to some large total dollar value over a period of years. Each of these task orders could be an enormous amount of money or could be for pennies, but all sites like USASpending show are details for the overarching IDIQ: ‘Contract for X (something vague), to list of Potential Providers (could be a 50 different firms), in the amount of $0’.

  7. “If I ran my business like this, I wouldn’t have a business”

    When you can survive by taking other peoples money, and dictating how much of it you get, where is the incentive to act responsibly with that money?

    I agree with Rayonic, if only because cutting 70%, by financing, of the programs in the US would actually pull some attention to the mess that is the US government. No more welfare, no more defense budget, no more schools, no more social security. That would catalyze some movement.

  8. About secret projects, I imagine those can at least be counted on a high level. “$21 billion – DARPA classified research”, etc.

    About my plan, I don’t imagine that we’ll get to cut a full 70% off the budget. But making every government program identify itself and detail its expenses (by a certain deadline) would probably yield significant savings.

    Government agencies and programs can’t “go out of business” like a company can, so there needs to be some kind of artificial mechanism to apply pressure.

  9. See, here’s the problem. The more you micromanage the spending, the more you demand absolute accounting, the more expensive it gets to do everything. When you have to document every tiny little expense, when you have to get approvals and sign-offs on everything, you add tremendously to the work you have to do, everything gets very inefficient, and what you end up with is lots of balance sheets that make people feel happy but that represent a lot of effort spent doing something other than what we were originally trying to do.

    Mind you, I’m not arguing against accountability. What I’m arguing is that it’s not 100% black and white, and that you can go completely overboard in demanding justification and documentation in the name of accountability, to the point that the system freezes up.

    1. Right on. Tracking and reporting and preparing to report now consumes at least a month of my time every year. That is a month or more I could be out there doing good work for the taxpayers.

    1. Haven’t read up much on history, have you? Or even the present day. Seems like half the stories on this site are posted to bash America.

      As for the story at hand, I don’t know quite what to say that isn’t covered in the comments. You will not be voting for a competent politician any time soon. Not with the way the system is set up. And even if you do, the popular vote means squat. So stay and try to do your best, or leave and do nothing, I suppose.

      Besides making posts on the internet with occasional one-liners or links to news stories without offering any kind of commentary on it.

  10. Yeah, but this is purported to be 70% of the fucking budget! Even after you slice off X amount for secret shit, that is still alot of money that isn’t being accounted for.
    I find it incredible that you can’t track where the money is going.

  11. I’m a contract accountant who has worked for a couple dozen large multi-national companies, as well as small and medium sized companies. I can say without a shadow of a doubt that it is completely 100% possible to track spending and expenses down to the penny. It’s simple to do, there is nothing complicated about it.

    All companies should be able to do balance their financials. The only companies who seem to be unable to do so are usually fluffing their financial records (laundering money, financial fraud etc.) or in the midst of declaring bankruptcy (the company has been essentially mismanaged to death).

    I advocate open-book policy. If the IRS can’t afford to hire several thousand auditors to audit government organizations AND private industry, then they should let the public audit financial records on behalf of the IRS.

    Privacy is a fallacy. The only people who are interested in private information are usually the very same people who have something to hide in the first place.

  12. if you people realize that both parties are filled with control freaks why do you continue to vote? Even if a third party option became available the control freaks would rush to it like moths to flame the only ones it would filter out would be the known control freaks. You could not filter out the aspiring controls freaks, and if it was tenable they would come.

  13. if you are referring to me. There is 99 percent of the house and senate are filled with control freaks who are pushing at the bounds of the constitution untill they get a dictatorship. Only maybe 1 percent who are not.

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