Your Government Is Here To…Oh, Never Mind

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This stuff is great! This is the kind of stuff no one, except possibly Mel Brooks, could make up. This is the headline from USA Today, hardly a bastion of conservative governmental criticism:

“619 Billion Missing From Federal Transparency Site.”

I kid you not. The story goes on to say:

“A government website intended to make federal spending more transparent was missing at least $619 billion from 302 federal programs, a government audit has found.

And the data that does exist is wildly inaccurate, according to the Government Accountability Office, which looked at 2012 spending data. Only 2% to 7% of spending data on USASpending.gov is “fully consistent with agencies’ records,” according to the report.

Among the data missing from the 6-year-old federal website:

• The Department of Health and Human Services failed to report nearly $544 billion, mostly in direct assistance programs like Medicare. The department admitted that it should have reported aggregate numbers of spending on those programs.

• The Department of the Interior did not report spending for 163 of its 265 assistance programs because, the department said, its accounting systems were not compatible with the data formats required by USASpending.gov. The result: $5.3 billion in spending missing from the website.

• The White House itself failed to report any of the programs it’s directly responsible for. At the Office of National Drug Control Policy, which is part of the White House, officials said they thought HHS was responsible for reporting their spending.

For more than 22% of federal awards, the spending website literally doesn’t know where the money went. The “place of performance” of federal contracts was most likely to be wrong.

That’s a problem, said Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

“We live in a world in which information drives decisions,” Carper said. “And, given the budget constraints that our government faces, we need reliable information on how and where our money is being spent.”

Golly, Mr. Carper. Do you really think so?

The headline is, I admit, slightly misleading. The website is not actually missing money itself; it is missing data on government spending, partly because the vast bulk of government, including the White House, either didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t report their spending, and partly because government follows the laws of nature which state that whenever anything becomes too big it gets unwieldy and inefficient and ultimately unable to survive.

If the government doesn’t even know where our money (that’s yours and mine, Baby) is going and how it’s being spent, if it can only account accurately for between two to seven percent of its spending, maybe the solution might be to work on increasing efficiency and oversight. Just a thought. But what do you want to bet some bright boy in the White House or the Senate or Congress will suggest we throw some more money at the problem to try and fix it?

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