Follow Us


Analysis of federal spending shows faults in data collection and reporting


February 4, 2013

Contact: Liz Bartolomeo 202-742-1520 x226

WASHINGTON, DC — The Sunlight Foundation today released its latest ‘Clearspending’ analysis and found more than $1.55 trillion in misreported federal spending in 2011. Visit the Clearspending website to view a scorecard on how each government agency reports its grant spending to the public online.

The government’s allows the public to search how it spends money. However, as Clearspending’s findings show, what the federal government posts online about their grants doesn’t always match up with available bookkeeping records (ie. a federal audit). In conducting the Clearspending analysis, Sunlight measured the grant spending on across three metrics: consistency, completeness, and timeliness. The $1.55 trillion in misreported funds in 2011 account for 94.5 percent of the total grant spending data reported that year. It was an increase from 2010 but lower than that in 2009.

“Last year, Congress had an opportunity to correct these inaccuracies with the DATA Act, which would dramatically expand and improve federal spending reporting,” said Kaitlin Devine, the lead researcher for Clearspending and a Sunlight web developer. “The Senate’s failure to pass it is a loss to the public’s right to know how the government does its grant making.”

The Clearspending website was redesigned in conjunction with this third analysis. For each metric reviewed, users can explore interactive visualizations that show how the misreporting in spending changes overtime.

Of the three metrics, two showed improvement:

Consistency — The amount failing due to inconsistency has increased over the past few years, now at 69.2 percent for 2011. This is largely due to several Medicare insurance programs that had reported data to, but stopped reporting altogether in FY 2010. It's not clear why these programs stopped reporting, but the public database for the Department of Health and Human Services (TAGGS) also does not have this spending reported.

Completeness — Since our last report, the number of obligations with completeness errors has gone down quite a bit, falling from a high of 66 percent of all measured obligations in 2010 to 26 percent in 2011.

Timeliness — In our last report, we saw the number of obligations failing from timeliness drop precipitously. This year, it has dropped even further, with just 1.5 percent of all obligations failing from timeliness in FY 2011.

For more information on Clearspending’s methodology, visit

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