GAO Recommends Greater Transparency on Government Spending | Citizens Against Government Waste

GAO Recommends Greater Transparency on Government Spending

The WasteWatcher

The Federal Funding Accountability and Transparency Act, which was co-sponsored by the late Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was signed into law by President George W. Bush on September 26, 2006.  The legislation required the Office of Management and Budget to lead the effort to create a single searchable website, which became USAspending.gov.  Each entry that could be searched was required to provide the amount, transaction type, funding agency, description, and name and location of the primary recipient. 

The website is managed by the Department of the Treasury. On December 16, 2021, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report, "Federal Spending Transparency: Opportunities Exist for Treasury to Further Improve USAspending.gov’s Use and Usefulness.  In addition to USAspending.gov, the Treasury Department created pandemicoversight.gov, which tracks all federal spending that was authorized in COVID-19 relief bills.  As the GAO report points out, these websites are not user-friendly, and most taxpayers don’t know they exist.  GAO suggested that the Treasury Department should work on promoting these websites more broadly and simplify them so that every American can more easily access and see where and how their tax dollars are being spent. 

 GAO surveyed users of USAspending.gov and other open data sources of federal spending information.  Most users work in federal agencies, state and local governments, and nonprofit organizations.  According to GAO, 92 percent of federal managers did not know about the site and some of the website users they interviewed said it was hard to obtain the specific data that they needed. 

GAO recommended that the Treasury Department develop and implement website promotion efforts targeted toward the types of users they have previously identified.  GAO also recommended that the Treasury should develop and implement training on how to use these websites. 

 GAO also recommended that a broad search function should be developed to help users to find the data they are looking for more effectively.  Currently, users must search by selecting a federal agency, a budget function, or an object class, and then find and select the correct federal account.  Many accounts are not easy to find, and the purpose of the expenditure is not always clear.  The website should also include a brief description of what the government program does and how much funding it has received over at least the past five years.

 The government has been on a spending spree since COVID-19 first reached the U.S. including the authorization of more than $5 trillion on so-called COVID-19 relief bills that included dozens of provisions completely unrelated to the pandemic, and $1.2 trillion in new infrastructure spending that was authorized by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.  It is critical for the government to be more transparent about how this money is being spent and how much money remains to be spent. 

The Treasury Department concurred in GAO’s recommendations.  Unfortunately, that does not always translate into action that complies with the recommendations, and the department has been in charge of USAspending.gov since 1998 and should long ago have taken steps to make the website more user friendly and informative.   

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