Federal Spending Transparency on the Decline?


This is a guest post by Becky Sweger, from the National Priorities Project.

Even as government transparency initiatives and portals like data.gov grow rapidly, the federal government is ending valuable and long-standing data publications.

Consolidated Federal Funds Report

One example is the Consolidated Federal Funds Report (CFFR), an annual federal spending report created by the Census Bureau and de-funded in fiscal year 2012. Since 1983, the Census Bureau collected spending information from the back-end systems that track federal awards, contracts, and salaries; compiled it into a single format; and summarized it by program, agency, state, county, and congressional district.

CFFR and USASpending.gov

The last CFFR was published in September, 2011, and the website now directs users to USASpending.gov for more recent spending information. However, there are a few things in the CFFR that you won’t find on USASpending.gov:

  • Money paid for salaries and wages.
  • 36 additional sources of spending data.
  • Postal Service procurement spending.
  • Spending summaries for smaller agencies (e.g., National Endowment for the Arts) that USASpending.gov combines into an “all other agencies” category.
  • Consistent data format.
  • Complete documentation: the CFFR includes a non-technical report explaining data sources, their reliability, what’s excluded, and how the dollar amounts are summarized.
  • History: CFFR data is available back to 1983, while USASpending.gov records go back to 2001.
Data Quality

In addition, the data quality of USASpending.gov is questionable. The Sunlight Foundation’s Clearspending project found that for fiscal year 2010, most direct assistance spending reported on USASpending.gov was inconsistent and incomplete.

In other words, even as the government releases datasets and APIs and embraces open source, and even as legislators gear up for a bitter budget battle, U.S. spending transparency is decreasing, not increasing.

What Can We Do?

The House recently passed the DATA Act, a bill that addresses many federal spending data problems and would transfer some of the CFFR’s information to a new federal spending website. The bill is now in the Senate’s Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee. Washington Watch has more information about contacting your Senator to make sure it moves forward.