To understand how maddeningly inaccurate data on USAspending.gov can be, one need look no further than the $333 million grant that was awarded last year to Dynamic Research Inc. of Torrance, Calif., by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
In fact, a Dynamic Research employee told us, the vehicle R-and-D firm is not expecting a third of a billion dollars from NHTSA. The grant is more like $1 million for research on advanced crash-avoidance technology. But the casual user of USAspending.gov, maintained by the Office of Management and Budget, would have no way of knowing this.
The problem was compounded when someone at OMB punched in the wrong program number from the Catalog of Federal Domestic Assistance. The number entered 20.235 isn’t a NHTSA program at all. It’s a Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration program, which awards grants ranging from $50,000 to $222,000. The alleged award to Dynamic Research — $333,292,250 was clearly out of whack, but was posted online nonetheless.
Erroneous data permeates USAspending.gov, created to fulfill the requirements of the 2006 Coburn-Obama Act, which required full disclosure of federal spending data. Worse, some data is missing entirely. The Government Accountability Office is scheduled to release a report on compliance with Coburn-Obama in January; it’s a safe bet it won’t be complimentary.
For more on data-quality problems the Subsidyscope team has encountered, see this recent post by Sunlight’s Tom Lee.