Good But Not Good Enough: USASpending.org

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Gautham Nagesh, writing at NextGov, reports on how USASpending.gov is failing to provide up-to-date information on government contracts and grants.

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act of 2006 mandated that OMB develop and maintain a site providing grant and contract information on all organizations receiving more than $25,000 from the feds. (Modeled after OMB Watch’s FedSpending.org, the site launched last December.) Nagesh reports that some agencies, including the Homeland Security, Labor, Transportation and Veterans Affairs departments have not updated their reports since last year. The agencies are supposed to issue a report monthly outlining who receives the funds and the amount of grants. Sen. Tom Coburn, one of the sponsors of the new law, has rightly called out the agencies for not adhering to the new requirements.

OMB says that the problem is caused by “glitches in the data provided to OMB,” not a scofflaw attitude on the part of the agencies. OMB receives the data in a form that requires the office to reformat it. Nagesh quotes Adam Hughes, director of federal fiscal policy at OMB Watch, as saying his organization has cut OMB some slack since the agency “has demonstrated consistent progress in overcoming the challenges the site faces.” Hughes also said that much of these problems were expected.

In June, Coburn and Sen. Obama and other sponsors of the original law introduced the Strengthening Transparency and Accountability in Federal Spending Act of 2008, which is meant to improve some of the problems. The bill “would require agencies to submit requests for proposals and contract information for posting on USASpending.gov to the site, allowing citizens to compare what the government asked for to what it purchased,” Nagesh writes. It would also require the site to record “performance data on the contract and disclose additional information on the entities that receive federal awards.” The bill also calls for a better search capability and require data be offered in XML or otherĀ  “machine-readable format.” The bill will require that agencies show that entities granted awards or contracts don’t owe taxes.

The great promise of the site is that it will give the public a much better way to follow how the federal government operates. Even though that promise is yet unfulfilled, we have great hope that the new legislation will fix the problems and give us a way to track how our government spends our tax dollars.

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