Last summer, I wrote an article about how an audit performed by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the government transparency site — USASpending.gov — revealed that more than 90% of the information found on the website was inaccurate.
The GAO audited spending data from 2012, the most recent year for which data is available, by comparing government agency records with those found on USASpending.gov. The GAO reported that only 2-7% of the numbers found on the website is ‘fully consistent with agencies’ records.” and that at least “$619 billion from 302 federal programs” was missing. (You can read the GAO report here).
Prior to the release of that report, Congress had recently passed the DATA Act, which was subsequently signed into law. This took USASpending.gov from the Office of Management and Budget and handed it over to the Department of the Treasury.
At the time, I noted:
“For those expecting the Department of the Treasury to fix the problem of transparency on how the government spends its tax dollars, think again. The Department of the Treasury is the parent agency of the IRS — and we all know how transparent the IRS has been with record-keeping.”
It seems that my prediction came true. The Treasury Department’s Bureau of the Fiscal Service was entrusted with overhauling the USASpending.gov website — and the new design, functionality, and transparency was unveiled yesterday. Unfortunately, the ability for citizens to find government spending information is now more difficult.
The Washington Free Beacon did a great analysis of the new design and found gems such as:
–Users can no longer search federal spending by keywords, sort contracts by date, or easily find detailed information on awards, which are delivered in bulk.
–Information, such as how much the Pentagon spends on Viagra, used to be available at the click of a button. Locating those same contracts on the new website is virtually impossible, akin to finding a needle in a haystack.
–In its previous form, the website provided easy access to how taxpayer dollars are spent, as it happens. A user now must have the federal grant identification number to see details of a contract.
–The list of agencies does not include smaller government bodies such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), but does include the “Barry Goldwater Scholarship and Excellence in Education Foundation.” Results for the profile of “Other Small Agencies” returns zero grants or contracts, with the reply “no data found.””
The article provides a thorough analysis of how the site used to be searchable vs how searchable it is now, complete with graphics. You can read the list of examples here.
Equally distressing is the fact that “search results are also not indexed on Google, making the website’s search engine the only avenue for citizens and reporters to find information within the site. Microsoft Sharepoint operates the new website’s search, and the results are limited.”
This is yet another prime example of what constitutes “transparency” from the “most transparent administration ever”. Fittingly, the Bureau of Fiscal Service did not return requests for comment about the functionality of its new design. Kudos to the Washington Free Beacon for exposing the latest data shroud.
At least they didn’t hire the firm that built healthcare.gov.