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Watchdog: Follow the Money

What happened to $619 billion? Don't ask the federal government

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Watchdog,Kelly Cohen,Waste and Fraud,Follow the Money,Budgets and Deficits,GAO,Spending,Government Contractors,Government Grants

People who put $619 billion into something are likely to want to know where it went. Not the federal government, apparently.

Federal agencies failed to account for $619 billion in grants and loans by not reporting the spending at all or reporting it incorrectly or late, according to a new Government Accountability Office report.

Concerns about how the federal government awards contracts, grants and loans prompted Congress to pass the Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act in 2006.

Then-Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., were the main sponsors of the bill, which was popularly known as "Coburn-Obama" and enjoyed political support across the ideological spectrum.

The legislation directed the Office of Management and Budget to create USASpending.gov the following year to provide every American with a mouse and an Internet connection a convenient way to track most federal spending.

The law requires agencies to report to OMB spending information, including the "name of the entity receiving the award," "amount type," "program source," "primary location of performance," and "unique identifier for the award."

The website has been functioning since then, but during the 2012 fiscal year many agencies reported information on contracts but failed to do so on grants and loans, GAO said.

As of January 2013 — two months after the deadline for reporting fiscal 2012 awards — agencies had failed to either completely report or correctly report the required information for $619 billion in grants and loans doled out under 302 federal programs, GAO found.

"Inclusion of these funds would increase the total amount reported for assistance awards as of February 2013 — approximately $2.6 trillion — by approximately 23 percent," GAO said.

The departments of Health and Human Services ($544 million), Veterans Affairs ($64 million) and Interior ($5.3 million) were the top three agencies that reported their assistance award information late or not at all, GAO found.

Between 2 percent and 7 percent of the award information on USASpending.gov matched with agency records, GAO found.

“The administration set a goal of 100% accuracy by the end of 2011,” Coburn said. “Three years later the federal government cannot even break a 10% accuracy rate. This complete failure in spending transparency hurts our ability to assess the pros and cons of how Washington spends tax dollars."

Agency officials told GAO that programs were not properly reported for reasons including technical issues, vague reporting requirements and lack of internal oversight.

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